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Profile: Thomas R. Fitzgerald
Thomas R. Fitzgerald was a participant or observer in the following events:
Adam Skaggs, an attorney for the Brennan Center for Justice, writes that the controversial Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court (see January 21, 2010) is going to have a huge impact on judicial elections in 2010 and beyond. The record for the costliest judicial race in US history was set in a 2004 Illinois contest between Lloyd Karmeier and Gordon Maag, competing for the bench in the state’s 5th Judicial District. Between them, they raised and spent almost $9.4 million, more than double the previous national record, and an amount Karmeier later called “obscene.” Special interests on both sides of the election became heavily involved, with Karmeier’s corporate donations from such organizations as the US Chamber of Commerce and State Farm Insurance winning out over Maag’s donations from trial lawyers. After the election, Karmeier cast the deciding vote in a case that saved State Farm $500 million. An Ohio labor official said in commenting on the often-heavy spending on judicial races, “We figured out a long time ago that it’s easier to elect seven judges than to elect one hundred and 32 legislators.” The Citizens United case, Skaggs writes, will undoubtedly lead to corporate spending in judicial races like never before. That spending, he writes, “threatens to further erode the judiciary’s independence.” Even former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has said that “Citizens United has signaled that the problem of campaign contributions in judicial elections might get considerably worse and quite soon.” Skaggs cites a number of races that will likely be targets for big corporate donors:
Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas R. Fitzgerald is a probable target after striking down a 2005 law that placed caps on medical malpractice claims; Skaggs predicts the same corporate interests that helped Karmeier win a judicial seat will attempt to defeat Fitzgerald.
In Alabama, three seats currently held by Republicans are contested. One of these, Alabama Supreme Court Justice Tom Parker, is the likely recipient of heavy corporate funding, because, as Skaggs writes, groups like the Business Council of Alabama want Parker on the bench to protect conservative interests on economic issues. That corporate spending will likely outstrip spending on Democratic candidates, which will come primarily from liberal judicial groups and the state’s Democratic Party.
A 2006 study by the New York Times showed that judges routinely decide cases involving campaign donors, and in 70 percent of those cases, find in favor of those donors. One judge in the study voted on behalf of his donors 91 percent of the time. In Nevada, judges routinely accept huge donations even when running unopposed, often from donors who have cases pending before those judges. Nevada voters will decide in the November elections whether to scrap the system of an elected judiciary and move to an appointment system. Skaggs recommends that states should adopt public financing systems for judicial elections (four states—New Mexico, North Carolina, West Virginia, and Wisconsin already do so) and eliminate entirely the concept of outside interests donating to judicial campaigns. He recommends stricter disclosure rules, so that the public knows who is contributing how much to judicial candidates. And, he writes, “states should institute new disqualification regulations to ensure that, if a judge is assigned to hear the case of a major campaign supporter, he or she must step aside and let a wholly impartial judge preside.” Otherwise, he writes: “The very legitimacy of the courts depends on the public believing that judges will treat every party without bias or favor. If, in the Citizens United era, states don’t adopt public financing and strong disclosure and disqualification rules, the judiciary’s credibility will dissolve—and quickly.” [New Republic, 4/5/2010]
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