Judge: Money Rules America’s Court Systems

The trial lawyers at Jacobs-Keeley have often noted the civil court system is skewed toward banks and other deep-pocketed entities. Even though courts are supposed to be one of those places where the playing field is even – justice being blind, and all that – there is much to suggest that is not the case.
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Just take the recent editorial penned by Sue Bell Cobb, the former Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court from 2007 to 2011. In a long, detailed piece in Politico Magazine, she delves into the dangers of requiring judges to undergo cash-soaked elections. She says the amount of money and favors exchanged in state judicial races made her “ashamed” to have participated.

She took note of how she had no choice but to accept nearly $2 million from lobbyists and lawyers in order to win the 2006 race. Her opponent raised more than twice that much. Although she won, she says a question from a reporter left her disturbed. The reporter asked how it felt to have won the most expensive race in history, and how the people of the state could rest assured those contributions wouldn’t affect her decisions on the bench.

She insists money never played a role in her decision-making. There was never a ruling, she said, in which she sided with one party on the basis of a campaign contribution. Still, she called the whole process “unsavory.”

Alabama, like Florida, elects judges through popular vote. Giving the power to the people is one thing, but it takes a great deal of money to run a campaign these days. For those who are not independently wealthy, that money must come from somewhere.

What is especially troublesome, however, is that in many states, judges can solicit and accept contributions from lawyers who will appear in their courtrooms, as well as from businesses appealing lower-level decisions.

Cobb asserts that when judicial candidates have no choice but to seek financing from corporations and other attorneys just to win the public’s favor, it has the very real effect of erosion on public trust. Even if, as she says, judges never allow that money to influence their rulings in an individual case, the problem is often the appearance of impropriety.

She wrote that while she noted the majority of rulings by her colleagues were not influenced by campaign contributions, she had concerns when fellow justices consistently ruled one way or another because their job was secured by the business community. There was a loyalty there, and that played out in the courtroom – where it should not.

The first step to inducing change, she said, will be the implementation of non-partisan elections. Cobb noted North Carolina successfully followed this model up until two years ago, when the legislature did away with it.

The other necessary change, she said, will be a system involving the selection of judges based on merit. That is, where judges are chosen by screening commissions that have no partisan affiliation.

Whether that is realistic remains to be seen. What we do know is individuals going toe-to-toe with large corporations in court need to have solid legal representation. Contacting a foreclosure defense attorney with extensive experience is essential.

If you’re battling debt collection in Miami or the surrounding areas contact Jacobs Keeley for a confidential appointment to discuss your rights. Call (305) 358-7991. Also, don’t miss Miami Foreclosure Attorney Bruce Jacobs on 880AM/the Biz, every Tuesday at 6 p.m. on “Debt Warriors with Bruce Jacobs and Court Keeley,” discussing foreclosure topics that matter to YOU.

Additional Resources:
I was Alabama’s Top Judge. I’m Ashamed by What I Had To Do To Get There. March/April 2015, By Sue Bell Cobb, Politico Magazine
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Report: Florida Foreclosure Backlog Being Cleared, But at What Cost? Feb. 12, 2015, Miami Foreclosure Lawyer Blog