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Judicial Politics and Personal Injury

As a general rule, I try to stay out of politics with my clients, the public, and certainly on the web.  Lately, however, I’ve been getting several questions about why judicial politics matter and why they effect a personal injury case.  I decided I shouldn’t be quiet about it anymore, so let me try to explain, delicately.

In Alabama, as in other states, judges are elected.  To be elected, one must run a campaign.  Campaigns cost money.  That money comes from contributors.  In 2010, Alabama, as it has in the past, had the highest amount of judicial campaign spending of any state that elects judges – more than Texas and Ohio, two other states in the top five, which are WAY more populous than Alabama.

Why does this matter to you?  Well, most of the campaign contributions come from businesses and lawyers, but mostly businesses (oil, pharmaceutical, etc.) and insurance companies.  These entities have cases that come before these judges.  It happens in Alabama and in other states.  One outrageous example came from West Virginia.  There, a judge received $3 million in campaign contributions from a company with a $50 million dollar verdict on appeal to his court.  Did he step aside from the case and refuse to rule, as you might think?  Nope.  Worse yet, he cast the deciding vote to reverse the $50 million verdict against the company.  Thankfully, the United States Supreme Court stepped in and ruled that the judge should not have cast a vote or participated in the case.  A little sanity restored to the process.

A study after the West Viriginia case, published by the New York University law school, written by two professors at Emory Law School, found a direct correlation between campaign contributions and judges’ votes.  Other studies have reached similar conclusions.  Of course, it probably didn’t take a study from New York to tell you if get money from someone, you are likely to vote in their favor.  Common sense tells you that.

My point is this – money flows throughout the Alabama appellate court system and it flows in large amounts.  Since 2000, $44.9 million has been spent on these races.  When that money comes from businesses or insurance companies that may have to pay your claim if the judges rule against them, you can see how there might be a connection between judicial politics and personal injury.

Decide for yourself whether such a connection exists.  I am merely trying to answer the question posed so often to me by my clients – what do judicial politics have to do with how badly I am hurt?  Sadly, the answer may be, quite a bit.

Edwin Lamberth

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