On Tuesday, April 16, 2024, Billy Corriher, the state courts manager for the People’s Parity Project, authored an opinion piece published on Governing.com examining conflicts of interest among several state supreme court justices across the United States.

In the article, Corriher outlines several examples where state supreme court justices have ruled on cases involving close personal or financial conflicts of interest, violating judicial ethics guidelines. This includes justices in North Carolina, Ohio, and Massachusetts ruling on lawsuits directly involving family members or former clients.

Specifically, the article details how two North Carolina Supreme Court justices – Chief Justice Paul Newby and Justice Tamara Barringer – have significant stock holdings in Duke Energy worth over $10,000 each. However, Newby ruled in Duke Energy’s favor in six cases despite the clear financial conflict. In Ohio, Justice Pat DeWine ruled on a redistricting lawsuit involving maps signed by his father, Republican Governor Mike DeWine.

Corriher also raises concerns about the appointment of Massachusetts Court of Appeals Judge Gabrielle Wolohojian to the state supreme court by Governor Maura Healey, who had previously been in a romantic relationship with Wolohojian. Ethics experts argue this appointment presents the appearance of bias, especially as Healey said recusal would not be necessary if cases involving her administration reach the high court.

The article points out that these types of conflicts undermine public trust in the judiciary. It analyzes how approval ratings for courts have declined recently due to high-profile examples of potential impropriety among U.S. Supreme Court justices as well. Corriher contends judges should recuse themselves from any cases where impartiality may be reasonably questioned, as per judicial conduct rules.

Corriher notes one potential area of reform is in Wisconsin, where the state supreme court supports strengthening ethics guidelines to prevent justices from ruling on matters involving major campaign donors. However, the author argues real change may only happen through the ballot box, with voters deciding whether to retain justices in future elections if they continue ignoring recusal norms.

The opinion piece concludes that at a time of eroding confidence in the legal system, it is unacceptable for state supreme court justices to preside over lawsuits involving close personal or financial ties without any repercussions. While not necessarily biased, these types of conflicts create an untenable appearance of partiality according to established judicial ethics standards.

 

 

Source: Governing.com