justice for sale

Join the Discussion:  How concerned are you about the money scramble in judicial elections?

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Dear FRONTLINE,

I am an attorney in private practice in New Orleans who has had the honor of serving as Chief Justice Pascal F. Calogero Jr.'s law clerk for two years--my clerkship ending in the early stages of the judicial campaign at issue. As such, I was shocked and appalled at the lack of fairness exhibited by Bill Moyer's "report" on the recent Louisiana Supreme Court election.

For two years, I worked day in and day out with the Chief Justice, and never have I encountered a man or woman who is more dedicated and hard-working or who has more integrity than Justice Calogero. To suggest that he would "sell" his vote in any matter for any reason is simply ludicrous to anyone who knows him either professionally or personally.

Unfortunately and ironically, it is his integrity that prevents him from defending himself against Mr. Moyer's reckless and ridiculous allegations. Because Rule XX matter is currently pending before the Louisiana Supreme Court, Justice Calogero is ethically prohibited from commenting on the same.

Both Bill Moyers and Stephen Talbot, the co-producer of the report, were aware of this constraint on the Chief Justice's ability to participate in the "report." As such, I find it downright cowardly for Mr. Moyers and Mr. Talbot to attempt to justify their actions in attacking the integrity of a jurist who has diligently served the people of Louisiana for over a quarter of a century by noting that Justice Calogero declined to comment on the story.

Chief Justice Calogero and the people of Louisiana deserve better than the sensationalistic and irresponsible journalism that Mr. Moyers and Mr. Talbot delivered...

Sherry Landry
New Orleans, Louisiana

Dear FRONTLINE,

U.S. Reprentative Helen Chenoweth-Hage R-Idaho and U.S. Senator Larry Craig R-Idaho back Republican Candidate Texas Governor George W. Bush, who supports judicial elections whereby the judicial candidates receive campaign, cash donations inherently causing them to returm biased decisions in favor of those who made the cash contributions to them.

That does not promote equal protection of the laws. Instead it corrupts the American court system, including in Idaho, with class-base discrimination and political animus.

Besides Texas, I allege that the courts of Idaho are corrupt, too, from this political scam and need to be reformed. Since the Supreme Court of the United States knows about this corruption in the two-party court system, why do they allow the courts to operate under that adverse circumstance detrimental to the principle of equal justice for all, when they have the power to issue an extraordinary writ of prohibition to end that corruption?

No office of government should be allowed to be bought by campaign donations. It's manifests a bad reputation for the court system, turns people against it and is comparable to a bribe to buy justice.

Alan Van Sickle
Boise, Idaho

Dear FRONTLINE,

Frontline is part of the problem. Talk to independent thinkers rather than judges and they'll tell you that the problem isn't special interests which exist in healthy systems.

The problem is that the "law" is controlled by insiders partly defined by parties. Persons of independent dispositions aren't allowed on any court--including the Supreme Court. The two Justices should have been asked when the last time a person highly critical of our system has been appointed to the Court. An honest answer: NOT IN OUR LIFETIME.

Bob Rand
Newport Beach, CA

Dear FRONTLINE,

One area not covered by your excellent and disturbing Justice for Sale is the effect interest groups have on criminal justice. It is not just monied interests that seek to mold judicial performance. Here in San Bernardino County, California it is common knowledge that all the judges are afraid of the District Attorney's power and willingness to replace judges he does not like by supporting opposing candidates. This power is formidable. No judge has ever been retained over the active support of the DA for a challenger.

The DA targets judges whom he perceives to be too soft on criminals. A judge is too soft on criminals if she vigorously enforces a defendant's constitutional rights under the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendments or if she grants a defendant's request not to impose the full force of California's draconian "three strikes" law at every opportunity--even when common sense would suggest the punishment does not fit the crime.

The result is that we in the criminal defense bar often refer to local judges as a "District Attorney V" i.e. one job level above the highest official grade of District Attorney IV.

A similar desire to remain a judge even at the expense of a defendant's constitutional rights is evident at our intermediate appellate courts and our Supreme Court. Ever since Justice Rose Bird was defeated for reelection by conservative forces, the courts' enforcement of constitutional rights has declined. I do not believe all of this is merely an expression of the inherent conservatism of those on the bench. Our current chief justice openly and shamefully sought support from conservative groups during his most recent reelection campaign by promissing to render conservative opinions. For criminal justice, this means enthusiastic support for the death penalty and for longer and longer prison terms for ever more minor crimes.

We must eliminate judges' dependance on anyone for election or reelection and insure they serve terms that are longer than any whim of the political day.


Paul Ward

Dear FRONTLINE,

I am a New Orleans attorney who has been active in political campaigns for the past 32 years and who has worked within the Judiciary for over 20 years.

My proposal for judicial reform is: District Court [trial court] level districts which are small in geographic area, numerous in number and of a size such that candidates can "walk the district" in the 6 weeks allowed for Louisiana campaigns. All district court judges elected out of the numerous small districts. No elections for appellate court judges or supreme court justices, rather the district court judge with the longest number of years on the district court bench becomes an appellate court judge solely on the basis of seniority on the bench.

Likewise the appellate court judge with the greatest seniority on the bench becomes a Supreme Court Justice as each opening becomes available from death or retirement. Numerous, walkable districts diminishes the importance of advertising, just as large geographic districts increases the importance of advertising in a campaign. As all consultants know, the cost of advertising is what fuels the need for money in a campaign.

We also need to increase the number of judges at the "workhorse" level, namely the district court. We have unusually small judiciaries for the size of this country. France, for example, has almost a hundred judges on the equivalent of its Supreme Court alone.

If we cannot implement the above plan, however, then at the very least we need to require that a candidate may not run for appellate court without having first served as a district court judge and that a candidate may not run for the supreme court without first having served as both a district and an appellate court judge. One problem with our Judiciary today is candidates with no judicial experience running for higher level courts. I daresay I would like the U.S. Supreme Court restricted to people who have served as a full-time state or federal judge.

The problem with a selection process based on anything other than seniority in judicial experience is that the reputedly "blue-ribbon" panel making the "merit" selection defines "merit" as "who agreed with us", be they the doctors, insurance companies, trial lawyers, employers, chemical plants or whoever, depending on which special interest group wrestles control of the panel. We had a race in Louisiana in which one candidate touted they were more qualified because they had graduated with 4.0s from college and law school. Sounded good, but the candidate had taken 10 years to get through college taking 1 course a semester and 6 years to get through law school taking 1 course a semester. Is that qualified? Of course not, any one of us could have a 4.0 taking one course a semester! show me the person who had a 4.0 while carrying a full class load and working parttime -- that's qualified! The question of "qualified" is too subjective a criteria. Only seniority in Judicial experience is truly an objective criteria.

Anne Benoit
New Orleans, La

Dear FRONTLINE,

A candidate for the Montana Supreme Court, I watched the frontline story on judicial elections with great interest. I think the story could have stated the message clearly: it is not money that corrupts the process, but the need for money.

Judicial elections are "down ballot." That means that people take little interest in them and in who is running. Name recognition becomes everything. That means TV. TV means money. Bar none, TV is the least costly method of reaching the most voters. It is cheaper than mail.

The corruption arises not because elected judges are necessarily dishonest. Corruption does not arise because elected judges pay back political support. It arises because elected judges are predictable and, in those states Texas was the best example in your story where a single group focusses on judicial campaigns, that group, whether it be trial lawyers or physicians, control the make up of the court and the outcome of disputes before it. The result is not a court, but a legislature.


Jeffrey Renz
Missoula, MT

Dear FRONTLINE,

Justice for Sale was a very moving report. Other television programs have shown how condidates solicit funds and that corporations are anxious to buy influence. They infer that the investments pay off but it's easy to brush off inferences.

Bill Moyer's piece clearly showed a result of legal campaign bribes: pollution that causes many premature deaths. Cruel mass murder is hard to ignore.

Political activists are working hard for democracy. We need more good works like Bill's to anger voters about money in politics and move them to act. People that are already moved might check out http://www.commoncause.org

Bill Keane
Pittsburgh, PA

Dear FRONTLINE,

Having baseball players fund the job-seeking efforts of baseball umpires, a provocative analogy raised on your pioneering broadcast,certainly would cause a strom of protest - especially after the first bad call.

There are bad calls in the courts every day. It's high time to get to the root of the problem and do something about it. Full public financing of all election campaigns for qualifying judicial candidates is an idea whose time has come - and not just for judicial candidates. Clean Money is the answer.

werner lange
newton falls, ohio

Dear FRONTLINE,

At first blush, Bill Moyers' report appeared to present an excellent case for merit selection of judges. But then I realized that would mean that here in Louisiana, our governor, who referred to the law students as "vigilantes", would be picking our judges. Now that's a scary thought and one that makes me not so quick to give up my power to vote for judicial candidates.

I also was surprised that a competent journalist like Moyers would not present the other side of the story - the values of an elective system. I especially thought that it was irresponsible to not explore the possible rationale for Judge Calogero's vote on the law clinics. Moyers condemned Judge Calogero's vote without presenting both sides of the story. Calogero has long been a champion of providing legal services to the poor, and is one of the, if not the most, respected judges in Louisiana. And if I recall correctly, the Governor not only opposed Calogero's reelection, he appeared in a commercial for Calogero's business-backed opponent. Your failure to present an objective story did a great disservice to a man who has dedicated over 25 years serving Louisiana on the Supreme Court. Shame on you.

Sandra Lorenzo
New Orleans, LA

Dear FRONTLINE,

Justice for sale was another great Frontline program. A well done but sad program. Sad for this country and our children.

It became clear to me, among other things, that smoke stacks aren't the only things that smell in Louisiana. It seems that Republicans have given business free reign to pollute our air and water, and justice has been bought off. They've been allowed to really show their true colors, and I'm not even a Democrate.

My 16 yr old daughter watched the program with me. I told her at the end that as bad as it seems, and it is bad, the fact that a program like this could air in this country gives us hope.

Walt Gartner
Nassau, NY

Dear FRONTLINE,

After watching your program I thought of Will Rogers who said, "we have the best politicians money can buy," and now we have the best judicial systems money can buy! You may think we are in a democracy,but with the campaign contributions the way they are we may be more realistically living in a plutocracy.

I do not believe we will see reform for some time because a majority in congress do not have the testicular fortitude to go against the moneyed interests that control our country. I would say that congress is singing soprano on this issue.

Alvin Hudson
Revere, MA

Dear FRONTLINE,

I was very disturbed when I heard the story about the people in Louisiana
who successfully kept another factory out of their already overly-polluted region. Then the powers-that-be slammed the door on further action by those citizens by changing an Article in Louisianna law. Such a blatantly
unconstitutional act
against these people should ring alarm bells for all Americans. If it
happened there, it can happen anywhere.

I hope that this episode of
Frontline brings positive
action for these citizens
of Louisiana, by opening the doors of law to them again. The only way we
can get rid of such odious monsters in our closets is to actually
open the closet door and
turn on the light.

A side comment in this same story mentioned that this group of factories
out-pollutes the state of Ohio. As an Ohioan, I beg to ask:"where" is the EPA in Louisiana??


Ohio has long been looked at as a "bad guy" polluter, even though most of the steel and rubber industries are long gone. Our air and
water qualities are cleaner than they have been in decades, but the EPA still crawls all over the state as if it still were a major polluter.What sort of calamity will it take to get the EPA go south for awhileand catch some "real" polluters?

Jenny Ray

Dear FRONTLINE,

Thank you for exposing the truth about the erosion of our justice system....

As a prison warden, i am familiar with the consequences of a judicial system which is less concerned with truth and justice and more concerned with numbers and politics.

There are many people in prison who do not need to be in prison. filling beds is the name of the game. human lives have become a commodity for the few who are getting rich in the prison business. how many private prison corporations are funding the elections of judges? i know of two men who are serving a life sentence for a crime they did not commit. when one american citizen is wrongly convicted, it is one too many. prison is filled with the poor not the rich. There is no question that justice is for sale.

c.c. cooper
marfa, texas

Dear FRONTLINE,

There are two main reasons why Americans find your "Justice for Sale" a revelation. One: Because of the lack of quality investigative journalism. Two: Because corporate American journalism is rife and is like the justice system limited to the reporting preferences of their sponsors.

It may come as a surprise to most under traveled Americans, to be informed that in most free world countries, documentaries coverings hundreds of topics simular to your one are shown most nights. So it was extremely refreshing to discover FRONTLINE. You have my full attention for your future presentations. Thank you.

Travis Armstrong-Jones
La Mesa, CA

Dear FRONTLINE,

The program, "Justice for Sale," was excellent. The portions dealing with the family in Texas and the citizen groups in Louisiana being denied their day in court drive home the fact that "Equal Justice Under Law" is often an unfulfilled promise of our democracy. It is particularly distressing that the Louisiana Supreme Court Justices decided to change the law student practice rule at the behest of the business community that helped to elect many of the Justices. As your report noted, law student clinical programs are often the only way citizen groups and many of the poor gain any access to the courts. Politics in Louisiana have hit a new low when judges won't even let community groups and persons who can't afford lawyers from receiving free legal assistance to bring cases in court.

As long as our system allows judges to hear the cases and decide issues important to the law firms and parties who contribute thousands of dollars to the judges' elections, fair and even handed judging will more of an aspiration than a reality.

In almost every other democratic country, persons who wish to become judges receive special training and are selected by procedures that enhance the probability that they will be fair. In many states, our judicial selection system is in desperate need of reform. Even in states where judges are appointed to the bench, procedures have to be in place to insure that qualifications and not politics decide who will become judges. Hopefully, your program will help to move this issue to the front burner of public debate.

Peter Joy
St. Louis, MO

Dear FRONTLINE,

Great piece. I am a practicing attorney in Louisiana. I'll never forget a status conference with a District Judge retired of the 19th Judicial District Court about 7 years ago. I didn't particularly care for the Judge and I had contributed money to the opposing candidate in a recent election.

Another attorney and I were in the Judge's office that morning for the status conference and the Judge started the conference by looking me square in the eyes and saying "you know Mr. Brown, I always look at who contributes to my opponents in an election so I'll know who I'm dealing with." When Jim and I walked out of the conference, Jim looked at me and said "What the hell was that all about. I can't believe he said that in a Status Conference. Man you must have really done something to piss him off!".

For the rest of America that watched your program, "Welcome to Louisiana". It's common knowledge in the legal community that the Louisiana Supreme Court is apt to reverse itself and an entire body of law based on who got elected and where their money came from.

Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the Iceberg in Louisiana. Unfortunately, that's just how it is in this state, and I don't really believe the people want to change it because when the system is filled with good ole boys doing favors, everyone knows that when your not on the inside track, its just a matter of time before you get there, and once you do get there, your home free. Its really quite dissappointing.


Harley Brown
Baton Rouge, Louisiana

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