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Money is neither problem nor solution of corrupt judges July 20, 2007

Posted by Daniel Downs in Adam Smith, Income, judiciary, law, media, morality, news, political economy, politics, Supreme Court, wages, wealth.

Are the courts filled by reprobate judges who have lost all sense of moral decency? The Economist seems to think so. In a June 28th Economist article entitled
Judges Behaving Badly
, the author lists a series incidents exposing the corrupt state of America’s judiciary. A former judge attempted to sue for $54 million because a dry cleaner lost his trousers. A Florida judge was removed from the bench because of repeated complaints of abusive behavior. So was a California judged for similar conduct, which included increasing jail sentences for daring to question his rulings. A New York judge was ousted after he challenged a defendant to a fistfight during a trial. Luckily, he did not use the gun he was carrying. Other judges have had to step down because of sexual misconduct. One judge was jailed after being caught downloading child pornography. Another judge was caught mating with a female attorney in chambers. Others judges were caught and removed from office for other sexual acts in chambers, and it only gets worse. A New York judge was jailed for taking bribes to rig divorce cases. Another New York judge was caught charging people for referrals to certain lawyers. These incidents reveal a trend of increasing judicial corruption that is creating public distrust.

As Honoré de Balzac wrote, “To distrust the judiciary marks the beginning of the end of society.”

What is the reason for the degradation of America’s judiciary? According to the article, it is a two-fold problem. The first part of the problem is that state and local judges have to pander to campaign contributors to win popular elections. Campaign contributions are incentives to favoritism, which often results in the breakdown of strict adherence to the law. Consequently, elected judges are held in low esteem. The second part of the problem is low pay. Federal judges have not had a pay raise for 17 years, which seems rather unethical since Washington politicians during the same period continued giving themselves raises. For the past 17 years, district court judges have made $165,000 a year, which is no more than beginning associate pay in one of the top law firms. Chief Justice Robert makes $212,000, which is half the salary of Britain’s top judge and one-fifth of the average salary of partners in the top 100 American corporate law firms.

So is the answer giving elected judges more money? Judges should receive a cost of living raise like everyone else, but contrary the Economist, money will not solve the moral issue. If giving judges more money is not the solution, what is?

Campaign reform might be a good place to start. It is obvious that campaign reform is necessary to avert election related corruption. However, the solution proposed in the article is not acceptable. Supreme Court judges may be more highly esteemed because they are appointed and not elected. When the issue is politically motivated corruption, the only real difference between elected judges in lower courts and the Supreme Court justices is the type of corruption. Most Americans are aware that Supreme Court justices serve the political interests of party polity. The high-stakes, mega-dollar campaigns used to win the White House and the majorities in Congress ultimately influence decisions from the high court bench. The answer to the problem of political corruption among elected lower court justices is not eliminating public accountability.

The solution lies in eliminating the high costs of political campaigns and changing campaign contribution methods. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), 37 states already limit campaign contributions. The average amount individuals may give to any candidate is $3,136. Although limits on PAC giving vary significantly, most states have enacted laws limiting PAC contributions to judges and other political candidates. Information provided by the National Institute on Money in State Politics shows the two groups giving the majority of campaign dollars to state chief justice campaigns in 2006 were businesses and lawyers. Special interest giving totaled of over $34 million to 83 state Supreme Court campaigns. In addition, there were 52 judges whose campaign committees accepted no funding. Of the 52 judges, 39 won their bid for a seat on the Supreme Court while only 13 lost. Here is proof that campaign dollars is not required to win judgeships. What is needed are better methods of disseminating information about judges and their work. Television, radio and print media could better serve the public by presenting more news coverage of judges and the courts. They could also provide better public service by airing or publishing programmed judicial campaign forums to disseminate necessary information to voters. At minimum, campaign forums, advertising, and literature could be funded in part or in whole by pooled contributions for judicial campaigns. Instead of permitting special interest donations, political contributions could be limited to a general judicial campaign fund that would be distributed equally to all candidates. This is similar to donations made to presidential and parties campaign funds through tax returns, license plate purchases, and other means of donating to general campaign funds.

In 2002 and 2003, Senator John McCain sponsored free air time bills that would have made airing political advertisements a non-profit business. The first bill was called the Free Air Time Bill and the second was called Our Democracy, Our Airwaves. Neither bill made it out of committee, which shows the power of profit over the good of the people. Nevertheless, the issue remains unresolved. Why should the media using public airwaves get millions or billions of dollars for a public service? Elected public officials are public servants, and their campaigns are informational services to the public. Broadcasters do not deserve huge profits for marketing public servants. Especially since campaign marketing, more often than not, is a tradition in public deception. According to “The Clinton Chronicles,” Bill Clinton’s media driven campaign for the presidency was a good example. Liberals claim the same about the current president’s past campaign. No matter how the economic pie is cut, the public ultimately pays for mega-dollar election campaigns. Even though legislation exists to clean up the deception, reform is still needed that will minimize political campaign costs. Not just for federal offices, but for state and local judicial campaigns.

Giving judges more money is the other solution to judicial corruption presented in the article. Again, they should get periodic cost-of-living raises; but the question Americans should be asking is this: why is a salary 2-4 times higher than the current median income not enough for these public servants? Why should elected judges, legislators, governors, or Presidents get salaries in excess of 2-3 times the average American worker? Why should first-year corporate lawyers make 3-4 times more than the median income and corporate law firm partners 18 times the average income of Americans? Do lawyers and public servants deserve that much money when millions of Americans exists on 3-4 times less than median income? No one deserves to have enormously more wealth at the expense of a great many others—not as a group or as individuals. Those corporate lawyers, lawyers in the legislatures, and those presiding over the courts helped create the problem of income inequity. Fixing the problem is theirs to adjudicate.

A real solution requires fixing the political economy not giving judges higher salaries. Many of them may have to rediscover the history of American economic development. They will discover a political economy once regulated by moral principles not just by special interests. As documented by David McNally, the political economy envisioned by Adam Smith measured wealth not by maximum profit but by minimum profit in a competitive free market. The wealth of a nation was measured not merely by national product but how much of national wealth belonged to the lower classes. Smith was an opponent of minimum wage. Like Thomas Jefferson, he was a champion of a livable wage. Unlike today, economic independence for all citizens was a highly valued concept of freedom. That is why Americans should raise holy hell until their public servants fix the real problem for the good of all.

Restoring the moral basis of our national economy will advance moral renewal across all sectors and institutions of American society, even the judiciary. Restoration of national morality is the solution to a corrupt judiciary served by moral agents serving the public good.

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1. in2thefray - July 22, 2007

Of course some say such things screams for appointed judges.My state has appointed judges and there is now murmurs that elected judges might be more attentive to victims and justice. I liked the post.I’m still lost personally for the best solution.

2. Roxanne Bedford - October 22, 2008

Citizens forming and sitting in courtrooms listening and monitoring the judges ruling and behavior is a must! The judges should campaign for the bench. And the people will vote. If they fight against each other for the bench, we will know about them and definately all of their hidden dirt.

3. Anonymous - November 9, 2008

The judges have not received an increase and they are not running off the bench. They have job security and benefits and generous pensions.

4. Elaine Lanphier - November 15, 2008

I was victimized by a corrupt ALJ in Colorado. Kristin Rozansky ignored the evidence in my case from the start. She was in bed with corrupt governemnt officials. I pity anyone who must have their case heard by her. I lost my case because of her bias, I lost my life savings. I am ruined.

5. Anonymous - January 12, 2009

I think a judge is corrupt when he is laugh and joking on the stand.
There are no morals anymore in the system,

6. Mr. firsthandexperience - May 31, 2009

I have been to court several times and I have yet to see justice done. All the judges I have seen are more interested in getting the case over quickly, and sucking the usual quantums of respect and money out of the participants. There is simply not enough money for justice anymore. I really feel no honor for the buttholes who call themselves judges in such a system, they become dishonorable, as I see it. Either they produce justice or shut up. Do not pretend to be honorable and spew injustice.

7. Anon but does anyone care? - February 25, 2010

From the lowest state courts to the highest federal courts, there is no justice for all Americans. The rich or someone who knows the attorney or judge/prosecutor are the ones who benefit from our courts in the land today. Federal bankruptcy is a joke at the expense of the citizens. Trustees are greedy just like the judges and the attorneys are making this greed spread even more, causing fraud, etc. People do not want to get involved and that is the problem. When the higher courts uphold the corruption in the lower courts then how can one get justice in America? It is time to take back the government and give it back to the people. All courts should be supervised by regular citizens to ensure JUSTICE FOR ALL. Or else get rid of them. What most of them do, would imprison regular citizens for lengthy periods of time and cost them plenty which they are stealing from Americans.

8. kris sergentakis - June 13, 2010


this case is a complete fraud

9. autism custody battles - September 1, 2010

Please follow my page titled “NY Wall of Shame” for judges and lawyers in NY Family Courts and Supreme Court.

10. regina mcilvain - September 25, 2010

Thanks for this post, and for comment #9 – I will follow your link.

Accountability and transparency seem to me to be necessary in all of the cases mentioned above. Where there is power without accountability it is only expected that there will be corruption. We also need protection of the judicial system for cases that clearly will not be popular but which have merit.

11. Kris Sergentakis - September 29, 2010

Google leukemia scandal read about your justice system

12. Trenia Ainsworth - September 29, 2010

Can you please tell me, how to get a corrupt judge investigated?

Daniel Downs - September 30, 2010

Contact your the bar association and/or Attorney General with your complaint(s). They may help you out with it.

13. Randall - September 17, 2011

My name is Randall Kelton and I do a radio show on legal reform. At ruleoflawradio.com we specialize in remedy and especially when it comes to corrupt judges and prosecutors. There is a solution and it has nothing to do what how much a judge is paid. To think that there is enough money to to buy a corrupt judge out of his corruption is naive. People were given the power to control the governmental instruments they have created. The people have simply failed to us that power. If you have knowledge that a judge has committed an act that is defined as a crime in your state, you have a statutory duty to file a criminal complaint against that judge with a local magistrate or prosecutor. If the magistrate or prosecutor commits misfeasance in office by failing to perform a duty they are required to perform, they commit a crime and you have a duty to file against them.

Make no mistake, criminal filings are very powerful tools as are bar grievances and judicial conduct complaints. I understand that the prosecutors and judges will try to protect one another and will refuse to act on your complaints. That is fine as they give you more fodder for the political mill. Criminal complaints, bar grievances, and judicial conduct complaints carry serious political consequences.

By filing them you create cannon fodder for the official’s political opponents. Everything is political and when citizens start filing official complaints they create lots of politics, especially when they file complaints against those who refuse to act on their complaints.


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