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Archive for the ‘buying elections’ Category

Why fighting judicial campaign money matters

In broken tort reform, buying elections, debunking the myth, ideology, medical malpractice, MI Supreme Court, propoganda, Uncategorized, undo tort reform on June 13, 2013 at 2:57 pm

In response to an article posted on Mother Jones (“Secret Money Is Now Swaying State Judicial Elections“), I posted the following:

There is a strong “Why should I care?” aspect to judicial buying.

Here is a scenario: you go to your local hospital with an emergency.  Through negligence or error you receive injurious care.  You wish to sue.  You shop your case to local attorneys first, but few

lawsuit lotto

lawsuit lotto (Photo credit: Shira Golding)

show even slight interest.  Small town lawyers need medical care too.  You call the big firm that funds the state’s hockey team.  Their nurse indicates that your case is “not a winner” and wishes you luck.

You find out that because of malpractice caps (put in place to protect innocent doctors from “runaway juries” and “slick lawyers”), counsel is hesitant to take any case that is not an outright slam dunk.  No gray area cases or ones which a jury could be swayed.  The cost of litigation is just too high.  Counsel has to find an exact equal physician to testify (their expert will be put on a mini trial within the trial) before the trial, submitting an Affidavit of Merit (these start at $1500 and go up, depending on the hired gun).  Then this expert must testify at trial, and already your case is running up quite a tab (a contingency fee for a capped case starts at $25,000–which sounds like a lot until you break it down into costs and fees).  So, Counsel picks only obvious winners.  Others get a smile and well wishes.  Merit has little bearing.
So, with the Statue of Limitations running (two years is typical so that physicians don’t have the “fear of litigation” looming over their heads), you push on, convinced that your bad doctor should be ferreted out of the system; that he should not be harming others like he harmed you.
In order to file your case, you will need to, six months in advance, file a Notice of Intent.  This gives the doctor six months (actually, it gives his insurance carrier–he will not have any direct contact with the case until called to testify–and few ever make it that far) to prepare.  Medical records are shared (HIPAA is automatically waived and your medical records are shipped around from insurance office to Defense Counsel to their own expert witness hired guns).  You give up all claims to HIPAA protections when you move to sue.
The six months pass and Defense (as they are now known–usually a well-healed firm from a large city on retainer by the insurance company) establishes their contingency case, reading to throw motions for dismissal as soon as the actual Complaint is files (the Notice of Intent is really a preview or draft of the Complaint).  The Complaint is filed and the Affidavit of Merit is supplied (if there is more than one defendant–say the physician and the hospital for lack of adequate oversight–the cost of this “pre-litigation requirement” moves into the tens of thousands).
Defense will immediately file a Motion to Dismiss, attacking the Affidavit of Merit (mini-trial even before the trial starts–Defense strategy is to have the case thrown out before a jury ever hears it).
Your small case, up against the best legal counsel in your state, will have many options for the judge to dismiss it.  The legislators in your state, fearing that “good doctors” will seek less litigious states, have enacted (often at the heading of the insurance lobby) “tort reforms” (think of “Hot Coffee”) that give the judge ample discretion to head Defense’s claims.
Elected judges, backed by a packed “tort reformed” legal structure, biases your legal claim from the beginning.  Upon appeal, additional panels of judges, also elected, will determine the validity of this structure.  An appeal to the State’s Supreme Court, also elected, will “rule” along party lines almost exclusively.
You are still injured, probably for life.  The bad doctor is still “practicing,” injuring others who, themselves, will have no legal recourse.
Insurance wins (the don’t lower their rates in accordance to the numbers of cases filed–only 1 in 8 of valid cases are even filed–and few of them make it to trial–fewer still result in a verdict for the injured party).
Bad doctors are not held accountable.
Injured patients will seek the medical care for their injuries available to them: most often at the public’s expense (Medicare/Medicaid).
And if the judges are elected, then the legislation that has also been “influenced” by campaign money, headless of legitimacy, stands.
Medical Malpractice is the 6th leading cause of death, ahead of victims of gun violence.
With a purchased judiciary, there is no justice.
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It’s good to be the king

In broken tort reform, buying elections, Campaign Finance, medical malpractice, MI Supreme Court, undo tort reform on April 15, 2013 at 10:03 pm
English: A Photograph of the Michigan Supreme ...

English: A Photograph of the Michigan Supreme Court building located in downtown Lansing, Michigan. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When Mel Brooks had that as a running rif in his “History of the World, Part 1,” it was the excesses of the French Court he was lampooning (skeet shooting serfs was one gag).   The saying, though, applies to the Michigan Supreme Court today, with no revolution in sight.

The legal doctrine of Rooker-Feldman allows a state judiciary to be immune from federal oversight.  That is, a state court’s decision cannot be second-guessed by the federal court system…only the by the Supreme Court.

That is a fine system for upholding Jim Crow or enforcing Med Mal “tort reforms” (yes, I consider them to be of the same ilk).  Without a literal act of Congress (and good luck on that), a state judiciary can lay out a series of ruling that, because of stare decisis becomes the de facto law of the land.  If a case comes up through the appellate channel that challenges the precedent law-scape, just choose not to hear it. Because it takes 4 of 9 to hear a case, a stacked court (like the present Michigan Supreme Court) has virtual carte blanche to NOT hear any case that might upset the delicate balance that they have worked so hard over the last 20 years to erect.

With Gov. Rick Snyder‘s conservative appointment this last month, the “balance” of the court is now well in favor of keeping things exactly at the status quo

So, if you are too poor to sue, you better hope you live in a state that is NOT Michigan OR you physician you malpracticed on your ass lives in another state.  That way you can sue in Federal Court where they have determined that the Affidavit of Merit leads to injustice (as have numerous state courts–OK, LA, WA, IL, OH, NY, VT).

If you live in Michigan, and your physician was in Michigan, you either pay to play or you go home.  No other options.

If you appeal, you will be denied by stare decisis.  If you appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court, you get a one page letter stating “heard and denied” for your troubles.  Appeal that to the US Supreme Court, and you waste your time (they take up about 1% of the cases filed).

Forget about Federal Courts other than the Supreme Court of the United States, federal district courts will dismiss on Rooker-Feldman.

For the sitting Michigan justices, it is good to be the king.

For the insurance and medical groups who have financed their campaigns, who have paid over the years to have their ALEC laws enacted, it is really, really good to be the king.

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Stealthy wealthy: How Harold Simmons’ political giving has benefited his business empire – Sunlight Foundation Reporting Group

In broken tort reform, buying elections, Campaign Finance, Donors, Get the Ca$h, medical malpractice, propoganda on March 14, 2012 at 8:25 pm

I no sooner post about a curious super PAC donor then I see how one really rich guy can wage war against what he sees as an injustice to the social order and get his way.  Even though I disagree viscerally, I don’t have a billion dollars to counter his efforts.

I will quote at length from the article,  Stealthy wealthy: How

BUDA, TX - NOVEMBER 2:  Conservative supporter...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

arold Simmons’ political giving has benefited his business empire – Sunlight Foundation Reporting Group, for it sums the situation up neatly.  Bill Allison writes:

In Texas, Simmons has contributed to limit the ability of plaintiffs to sue. Among the larger recipients of his largesse is the Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC, which in May 2011 celebrated Gov. Rick Perry’s signing of a bill it lobbied for that contains provisions–including requiring plaintiffs in tort cases that lose to pay the fees of those they sued–long sought after by business interests. Simmons gave the group $1.9 million between 2000 and 2011. Perry has gotten more than $1.3 million in support from Simmons in his gubernatorial and presidential runs. Simmons also contributed $100,000 to the Yes on 12 campaign, a ballot referendum that allowed the Texas legislature to cap damage awards for pain and suffering in lawsuits against medical providers; Texas voters approved the ballot initiative in 2003. (emphasis added)

Under the guise of being pro-business (which is code for anti-individual), such social engineering is achieved through the judicious use of large amounts of cash.

While his harm is in Texas, and, arguably, the citizenship voted it in (the citizenry often votes against its own self interest), such activity occurs in Michigan.  Lower the dollar amounts and focus attention on electing the Supreme Court judges, and the mechanism is the same.

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Super PACs $500,000-Plus Donors Account For Majority Of Money

In buying elections, Campaign Finance, Donors, Get the Ca$h, medical malpractice, propoganda, Think tank on March 14, 2012 at 3:51 pm

Super PACs $500,000-Plus Donors Account For Majority Of Money.

I was reading an article about the top 49 donors to Super PACs, seeing familiar and expected information.  49 donors have contributed $500,000 or more, making them the 1% of the current election cycle.  Again, expected and not surprising.

Then, as I was clicking through the slideshow of top donors (their pictures and a little blurb about who they are and to whom they contribute), when I came across slide number 5: Cooperative of American Physicians.  Let that sink in.  With the mega-rich donors (Harold Simmons from Dallas, funder of Swiftboat, giving to Romney; Sheldon Adelson prodding Newt Gingrich to the next state; etc.) and typical lobbying groups (AFL_CIO) appears an insurance company that specializes in medical malpractice coverage.  Interesting.

What interests a med mal insurance company in the Presidential Election to the point that they contribute $2,470,292 to their own super PAC?  In business, every investment demands a return, and this is a sizeable investment from a firm that supports, purportedly, a niche market.  The company states on its web site that it is physician owned and governed.  Its mission: “We support  and protect California’s finest physicians.”

“Support and protect” sounds like a security firm…which I guess it is.  By heading off potential litigation before it is able to come to verdict, the “finest physicians” need not worry about paying for mistakes.  Purchase access and influence to the lawmakers and erect enough barriers and hooks to dismissal, then litigation swings in favor to the Defendants.

Does the Cooperative of American Physicians wish to extend its reach outside of California?  Their name seems to indicate such, but the website lists only coverage for California physicians.  Their FAQ page may be found here.

2.4 million can buy a lot of law.

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ProPublica’s Podcast: The Shrouded Role of Special Interest Groups in Influencing Election

In buying elections, Campaign Finance, Get the Ca$h on November 16, 2011 at 2:44 pm

If you would like more information on how big money is being funnelled int

Journalism in the public's interest.o the election machine, give this podcast a listen.  You may also find the transcript here.

ProPublica defines itself as “journalism in the public’s interest.”

Check out this representative quote:

The Supreme Court has a really mixed record on partisan gerrymandering. There are definitely Supreme Court justices who think that it’s totally unconstitutional, and that it’s really appalling that most redistricting that happens in the United States is done on a partisan basis, and ends up really benefitting particular politicians and particular parties, but not benefitting voters.

But it’s a little bit tricky because there is no Voting Rights Act for partisan politics and there are Supreme Court justices who just really don’t think that the 14th Amendment and equal protection of the laws applies to Democrats and Republicans as separate citizens. That’s the first thing that’s tricky about partisan gerrymandering.

Michigan Courts dead last in Judicial Independence

In broken tort reform, buying elections, Campaign Finance, Get the Ca$h, MI Supreme Court on October 19, 2011 at 7:18 pm

I came a little late to this report

(WHICH STATES HAVE THE BEST (AND WORST) HIGH COURTS?)

Unfairness for All

(published in 2008), but the information and methodology presented (see below) probably has not changed in the ensuing years.

Taking to task the ranking put out each year by the Chamber of Commerce (the largest provider of republican court campaign money in Michigan), this study does NOT ask senior lawyers at large companies (Fortune 500) which states they like and don’t like (which are pro-business leaning and which are not).  The CofC:

… surveys ask senior lawyers at corporations that earn more than $100 million per year in revenues to grade state court systems, from A to F, and aggregate their responses.

No, this survey tabulated independence on how often a judge, affiliated with a stated party, went along with or dissented from that stated party.  That is, how much did they go along with their party (please note that a judge is SUPPOSED to vote as an independent arbiter of the law, NOT to be a representative of a political party).

According to the numbers, Michigan Justices vote in lock-step (I assume that the Democrats are just as bad as the Republicans on this).

Overall, it doesn’t make Michigan look good in a national survey…

At least the Parties are getting their monies worth.

Michlib Exclusive: Michigan Campaign Finance Network Exec. Dir. Rich Robinson (part 1 of 3)

In broken tort reform, buying elections, Campaign Finance, Donors, Get the Ca$h on August 23, 2011 at 5:40 pm

Rich Robinson, over at the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, presents some important reasons why the money in judicial politics makes for interesting justice.

 

Follow the courts at the Justice at Stake website

In buying elections, Campaign Finance, MI Supreme Court, Partner Web Sites-- on August 4, 2011 at 5:08 pm

Justice at Stake

I stumbled upon the Justice at Stake website, and I have found it to be a trove of helpful resources:  from national courts to my own home state of Michigan.

Now I can track some of the PAC money that is being used to buy influence.

Yay.

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On Point with a Michigan judge

In buying elections, Campaign Finance, Court recusal, medical malpractice, MI Supreme Court on August 18, 2010 at 2:23 pm
On Point
Image via Wikipedia

On Point with Tom Ashbrook, an NPR talk show out of Boston, featured not only an hour discussing the influence of campaign monies in judicial elections, it also featured a cameo from Justice Taylor (the only sitting Chief Justice to lose an election–scandal).

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Buy yourself some influence…

In buying elections, Campaign Finance, Court recusal, Donors, Get the Ca$h, MI Supreme Court on August 17, 2010 at 9:58 pm
Main NPR building in Washington DC on that sam...
Image via Wikipedia

How to buy the MI Courts is proud to say that we were here first.  Writing well into the first of this year, we called on readers to try their hand at purchasing access and influence.

Now the story has gone national.  NPR discusses, in not too great detail, the growing influence of money in court elections.

It is even worse than NPR knows.  They didn’t even scratch the surface.

Listen/read is here.

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