Posts Tagged ‘Judiciary’

RR: “Kings of Tort” documents fall of Scruggs, Minor

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

The forthcoming book “Kings of Tort” by Alan Lange and Tom Dawson is a “must-read” for anyone interested in Mississippi legal and judicial politics.  Here is an excerpt from my column this week, but to get the meat you have to read the full thing at the Madison County Journal: Perry / ‘Kings of Tort’ document downfall

And to get the real meat, you have to read the book.

“I’ll take care of it.” Those five words from Dickie Scruggs sealed his fate, and begin chapter one of “Kings of Tort: The true story of Dickie Scruggs, Paul Minor, and two decades of political and legal manipulation in Mississippi.” Captivated, I read it in two sittings.

This book by Jackson businessman and Y’all Politics publisher Alan Lange, and former Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Dawson, starts with all the nervous intrigue, betrayal, and corruption of a John Grisham thriller.

Another book about the downfall of tort titan Dickie Scruggs is forthcoming from acclaimed retired journalist Curtis Wilkie, Associate Professor at the University of Mississippi. “Fall of the House of Zeus” benefits from interviews with Dickie and Zach Scruggs denied to Dawson and Lange. Wilkie acknowledges a friendship with Scruggs.

Lange and Dawson will be launching a book tour on December 2 at the Pinnacle Building in downtown Jackson from 5:30pm to 8:30pm, sponsored by Lemuria Books. They will address the Stennis-Capitol Press Corps noon luncheon on December 7 at the University Club, also in downtown Jackson. More information about the book, and all the documents cited in the book, can be viewed online at

GOP should treat Sotomayor better than Dems treated Alito, Estrada, Pickering

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

This week I wrote about the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor.  Essentially I believe that even if Republicans determine Judge Sotomayor should not be on the Supreme Court, I doubt Republicans could stop her confirmation. But they can use this as an opportunity to contrast judicial philosophy and confirmation process style.  Here is an excerpt:

If Sotomayor believes a justice should drop the scales and pick up the legislative pen and make policy, then Republicans and Democrats alike should oppose her encroachment across the separation of powers and her disregard for the rule of law.

I doubt any Democrats will do so, and I hope Republicans will do so properly.

I would be embarrassed if during her questioning, Republicans dragged Sotomayor through the dirt and treated her like Democrats treated Samuel Alito, whom President George W. Bush nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court. Following Senator Ted Kennedy’s (D-Mass) interrogation and accusations against him, Alito’s wife had to leave the room in tears.

I would be agitated if Republicans mounted a process fight, attempting to bottle her in committee or filibuster her on the Senate floor like the Democrats did to Miguel Estrada, whom Bush nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. The Constitution gives the President the power by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate to appoint federal judges. As a nominee, she should have a hearing and she should have a vote. If Republicans want time to debate, they should exercise those prerogatives, but not abuse them to obstruct her nomination.

I would be frustrated if Republican Senators accused her of racism, like Democratic Senators did to Charles Pickering, whom Bush appointed to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Some Democrats were “kinder” just saying that Pickering was “racially insensitive.” Certainly had Pickering said a white man could usually make a better decision than a Latina woman, he would have been castigated by vitriolic Democrats. I hope Republicans show more class.

Republicans should treat Sotomayor with dignity in the committee, give her an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor, and refrain from character assassinations. If they do conclude she will not rule according to the word and intent of the Constitution, they should vote against her.

Republicans may not be able to prevent Sotomayor’s confirmation, but they can demonstrate in the process a more respectful and responsible way of conducting the Senate than their Democratic colleagues.

You can read the full column online at the Madison County Journal: Perry / Sotomayor’s nomination

RR: Obama’s Federal Appointment Process in Mississippi

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

Last week I attended a Federalist Society of Mississippi luncheon regarding the role of the minority party in federal judicial selection and confirmation. But I found most interesting the details Mississippi Democratic Party Chairman Jamie Franks shared on the selection process of President Obama’s appointments. Here are some excerpts from this week’s Reasonably Right:

Obama, a Democrat, faces two Republican Senators in Mississippi. This impacts not only federal judges, but other federal appointments on the state level including U.S. Attorneys, U.S. Marshals, Executive Director of USDA Rural Development and Executive Director of USDA Farm Service Agency.Franks explained with no Democrat Senator to make these recommendations, the Obama administration delegated the state Democratic Party to lead the way.

Franks said he spoke with Alabama Democratic Party Chairman Joe Turnham on their method for choosing nominees (Alabama also has two Republican senators) and said he intended to use Alabama as a model. The Alabama Presidential Advisory Council consists of that state’s three Democratic congressmen, members of the State Democratic Executive Committee and Alabama’s DNC members. It announced all its recommendations in early January, even before Obama’s Inauguration.

In Mississippi, Franks explained a committee consisting of himself, Rep. Bennie Thompson, Rep. Travis Childers, Rep. Gene Taylor, Attorney General Jim Hood, and Speaker of the House Billy McCoy made recommendations and submitted names for Mississippi’s presidential appointments. He said judicial nominations would occur in the same manner.

Franks said Republicans should remember that the Democrats won, and any federal judge nominees are not going to look like Northern District Court Judges Mike Mills or Sharion Aycock, but more like attorney Carlton Reeves. When asked if Reeves was just a random example, Franks only laughed. Earlier in the program, Franks had mentioned that an opening on the Southern District Court would likely be filled by a minority or woman from Jackson. Reeves happens to be black and from Jackson.

In November 2008, Thompson chief-of-staff Lanier Avant told The Clarion-Ledger the state’s three Democratic congressmen would be a “springboard” to suggest judicial nominees to Obama and last month he told The Sun-Herald that Thompson intended to give the president only one name as a recommendation for the Southern District U.S. Attorney.

Franks mentioned that after hearing various perspectives at the luncheon, he intends to consult with Mississippi’s Republican senators on judicial nominees, and that he would send a letter to Sens. Cochran and Wicker to get their input. 

You can read the full column online at the Neshoba Democrat: Perry / Obama’s appointments

Bar Association task force suggests reforms

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

he Mississippi Bar Association’s “Task Force to Strengthen Confidence in the Legal System” has released its initial report for member review and comment.  I wrote about the report in this week’s Reasonably Right.  Here are some excerpts:

The report begins, “The legal system in Mississippi has recently been inexcusably shamed by investigations, indictments, convictions and pleas involving lawyers and even judges…these recent events have caused widespread loss of respect for, and loss of confidence in, our legal system as a whole.” Because such a system “will not long by tolerated by the society it is expected to serve” the task force suggests several reforms to “heal our legal system.”

The report calls money the “core of today’s mistrust of Mississippi’s legal system” with the crux being the high cost of elections for the Mississippi Supreme Court, and the “staggering” fees awarded to outside lawyers hired by the office of attorney general to sue on behalf of the state.

The report recommends moving from an elected to an appointed system for choosing member of the Supreme Court. This idea actually became an issue in a 2008 supreme court campaign. Former Chief Justice Jim Smith had suggested the study of and consideration of just such an alteration. His opponent, Jim Kitchens, used that as a campaign issue and spent nearly a million dollars in his successful campaign to unseat Smith.

I have mixed feelings on the appointment vs election argument; but personally, I’m comfortable with the current system.

The report notes the role of Mississippi’s Attorney General has changed over the years from a legal advisor and chief lawyer to a “high profile crusader.” It says, “More and more, the office [of attorney general] has exercised its power to pursue high-profile criminal investigations and/or highly-publicized civil cases. Public confidence that such power is not subject to potential misuse is essential. The means to public confidence is a fully informed public.”

The report recommends: “Fees paid to private lawyers appointed as special assistant state attorneys general should be subject to open and impartial scrutiny.” Such openness should be in writing and on the internet, include disclosures of any campaign contributions or gifts between the attorney in contract and the attorney general, contain records of time spent and expenses incurred, and involve outside and independent (the report recommends judicial) approval of the fees.

The Mississippi Legislature is currently considering shining just such accountability onto the Attorney General, which would fulfill this recommendation by the task force. (In full disclosure, I have a client who is promoting “sunshine legislation” before the Legislature.)

Other recommendations by the task force include greater disclosure of lawyers who contribute to judicial campaigns, creating a procedure for an independent resolution of recusal motions, increased judicial and legal education, and higher salaries for judges.

Members of the Mississippi Bar have until March 30 to submit comments to the task force, before the report is reviewed by the Mississippi Bar Association.

You can read the full column at the Neshoba Democrat: Perry / Judicial reform

RR: Bush legacies and Obama opportunities

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008

When I voted for George W. Bush in 2000 and again in 2004, my top priority was the federal judiciary. I trusted him to make solid appointments; he did.  Two of the great legacies of Bush will be Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts and Supreme Court Justice Sam Alito.  His legacy will also be examined through the war on terror and war in Iraq. The war fatigue, coupled with an economy in recession, gave Barack Obama a great electoral opportunity, which might allow him to moderate Bush’s judicial legacy with his own appointments.  I write more about all this in this week’s Reasonably Right column. Here are a couple of excerpts:

Al Qaeda or their terrorist affiliates plotted operations against U.S. homeland targets, but American law enforcement and intelligence agencies thwarted them. A backgrounder by James Jay Carafano prepared for the Heritage Foundationlast year lists a few of the successes: Jose Padilla’s “dirty bomb” plan; the Lackawanna Six, a terrorist cell in Buffalo, New York; a scheme to collapse the Brooklyn Bridge; the Virginia Jihad Network; a plot to attack the New York Stock Exchange and other financial targets in New York, New Jersey, and Washington DC; a conspiracy to bomb a subway station near Madison Square Garden while hosting the Republican National Convention in 2004; an assassination plan against a Pakistani diplomat in New York City using a shoulder-fired grenade launcher; a plot to attack national guard facilities, synagogues and other sites in Los Angeles; targeted natural gas pipelines and oil refineries; an attempt to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago; a scheme to explode 10 commercial airliners headed to New York, Washington DC and California; a planned attack on Fort Dix in New Jersey; and more that we know about, as well as others undisclosed by the government.

Following the U.S. invasion of Iraq, both the Bush administration and Al Qaeda recognized that country as the central battleground in the war on terror. More than 4,200 American soldiers have been killed in Iraq, more than 60 with significant Mississippi ties.

And here are a few notes on Obama’s judicial opportunities.

Bush appointed and the Senate confirmed 61 appeals court justices, fewer than President Bill Clinton’s 65. Fifteen current Bush nominees will not be confirmed, those vacancies to be filled by President Obama who will make significant shifts in the judiciary during his tenure.

A report by Pamela MacLean in the National Law Journal suggests Obama’s appointments could turn seven of the 13 circuit courts into Democrat majority appointed benches, joining the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals which currently has that unique distinction. Mississippi is in the 5th Circuit, which is not expected to shift from its conservative leanings within four years. Congress may create an additional 14 new federal judgeships, which would provide Obama an opportunity to even further shape the judiciary.

On the Supreme Court, Justice John Paul Stevens will be nearly 89 at the swearing-in of his fellow Chicagoan Barack Obama. Stevens is two years from being the oldest justice and four years from being the longest serving justice in Supreme Court history. He, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 75, and David Souter, 69, all hail from the Court’s liberal wing and are most mentioned as possible retirees.

You can read the full column at the Madison County Journal online: Perry/Bush legacies, Obama opportunities

Two studies look at Mississippi Supreme Court

Thursday, October 23rd, 2008

This week Reasonably Right discusses two research studies on the Mississippi Supreme Court. The Mississippi Chapter of the Federalist Society released a white paper titled “On the Side of the Angels?: Updating the Mississippi Supreme Court’s View of the Judicial Role, 2004-2008″ and the MC Law Review released their research from the 2008 Judicial Administration Project.

An excerpt from the column:

The research suggests what any political observer would note: there is a sharp divide in the Court. The civil case split generally allies Chief Justice Jim Smith with Justices Bill Waller, George Carlson, Jess Dickinson and Mike Randolph on one side. On the other side are Justices Oliver Diaz, James Graves, and Chuck Easley. Concerning criminal cases, the division remains the same except Easley joins the majority leaving Graves and Diaz on the minority. (This research does not include Justice Ann Lamar or her predecessor Kay Cobb).

The purpose of the Law Review research is to show what is, but not what should be. It makes a specific note in its civil case research that the data, “does not reflect the court’s dispositions on any particular topic” and “the Law Review is not blind to the political ramifications” of misinterpreting the data.

The Law Review is correct. Evaluating the results of a Court in a vacuum, absent the law and the facts, can be problematic. The judiciary is to rule on the law and the facts as is, not as should be. Fairness cannot be determined solely by quota with equal rulings for the prosecution and defense; plaintiffs and defendants.

The Law Review research does show that even the most opposite of Mississippi Supreme Court justices agree more than they disagree. And, the Federalist Society study shows the majority on the Court continues to practice judicial restraint. It benefits the people, particularly in a state such as Mississippi that elects judges, to have this research available.

You can read the full column this week in the Madison County Journal: Perry/The judicial role

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