Texas Gets an "F": Center for Public Integrity Issues New Report on State Judges

The Texas Supreme Court: You Get an "F"
State supreme courts don't get nearly the attention the United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) does. State supreme courts decide more mundane issues related to contract, tort and state procedural law, while SCOTUS decides the hot-button/culture war issues surrounding abortion, guns, the death penalty and affirmative action.

But while the media spotlight is not as bright on the state supreme courts, one should not forget that they decide cases that are extremely important to business interests, and business-driven special interests groups have made changing the composition of state supreme courts' one of their high priorities. The results have been deleterious, to say the least.

What exacerbates this situation is that many states are failing to properly regulate state supreme court justices who hear cases when there is a financial conflict of interest. The Center for Public Integrity has a new report out and it is not pretty. Forty-two states, including Texas, received a grade of "F" for their rules regarding financial disclosure by their states' highest judges.

Some stark examples include:

Last December, the California Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal filed by a couple who had accused financial giant Wells Fargo & Co. of predatory lending.

One justice, who owned stock in the bank, recused himself from the case. But Justice Kathryn Werdegar, who owned as much as $1 million of Wells Fargo stock, participated -- and shouldn't have.

This is almost unbelievable. Even if one can swallow that Werdegar's financial interests played no role in her decision, the simple appearance of impropriety would shake anyone's idea of a fair and impartial judicial vote.

One Arkansas Supreme Court justice's acceptance of gifts is arguably worse:

n 2012, Arkansas Justice Courtney Goodson accepted a $50,000 trip to Italy from Arkansas attorney W.H. Taylor, according to Goodson's financial disclosure. The year before, Taylor paid for Goodson's $12,000 "Caribbean Cruise."

As one law professor remarked: "I just can't imagine that there are very many legal cultures around the country where that would be viewed as anything but crazy, horrible judgment." Indeed.

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