Recusal Examined

20 01 2017

Numerous articles, including this one from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, exposed the tens of thousands of dollars members of the Arkansas Supreme Court received for their campaigns from class action law firms.  Additionally, Justice Wood has come under attack in a Democrat-Gazette article for taking money from Michael Morton and failing to recuse off of a case involving him.  Morton has also been linked to bribery payments to convicted former judge Michael Maggio.

I absolutely support Justice Wood’s decision not to recuse off of the case.  Campaign contributions are an effort to see a judge or justice elected who has demonstrated decision-making in line with the contributor’s values and interests.  If the judge or justice were to recuse every time money was contributed, then they would not be able to decide cases involving people that care about judicial decisions and make contributions to either side.  Or, even worse, people who wanted to see someone elected because of their values and interests would be unwilling to make contributions because the very best judges and justices must then recuse.  Lastly, someone who wanted a judge or justice to recuse off of their cases because they do not see eye-to-eye on certain issues could simply give campaign contributions, thus eliminating all judges or justices they desire.  All of those outcomes could have a detrimental impact on the judiciary.

The elephant in the room is the assumption that campaign contributions are given to influence judicial decisions.  A quid pro quo is illegal.  Thus, if there was evidence that a contribution was given in exchange for a friendly decision, then the law will prosecute those individuals, like Maggio.  There is no evidence that took place with Justice Wood.

Ultimately, we elect judges and justices because of their legal acumen and moral compass.  Justice Wood has not demonstrated any ethical failures during her time on the Arkansas Supreme Court, in fact, she has openly encouraged a higher level of transparency.  Unless I find out otherwise, I support Justice Wood’s decision not to recuse.




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