State Supreme Court races used to draw little attention and not much money was spent on campaigns, but Diaz said that changed in 2000 when the U.S. Chamber of Commerce pumped about $1 million into ads to help his opponent and other candidates the group thought were pro-business. Mississippi trial lawyers opposed to the Chamber’s effort and countered by spending more money in the judicial campaigns.
“I expect the same this time,” Diaz said of the Chamber’s effort to try to get him defeated.
Prominent trial lawyers Paul Minor and Dickie Scruggs have been known as big contributors to judicial campaigns. Minor was influential in getting lawyers to financially support Diaz election campaign in 2000.
But today, Minor is serving an 11-year federal prison sentence after being convicted last year of judicial bribery charges involving two trial court judges. Scruggs has pleaded guilty to conspiring to bribe a state court judge. He was sentenced Friday to serve five years in prison.
Ron Rychlak, professor at the University of Mississippi School of Law, said the prosecution of Minor and Scruggs will make lawyers and judges more cautious about contributions but he believes normal contributions to judicial candidates will continue.
Bryan Quigley, a spokesman for the Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform, said the group looks nationwide at judicial races, but hasn’t finalized plans of any areas that it will target.
“We don’t talk about any specific races,” Quigley said. “Of course, Mississippi is an important state.”
The institute this year ranked the state 48th among all 50 states in the fairness of its litigation environment.
In other state Supreme Court races:
In District 1, Chief Justice Jim Smith, who has been on the court since 1993, has raised $69,550 this year. His opponent, Crystal Springs lawyer Jim Kitchens, has raised $125,000.
Smith and Kitchens couldn’t be reached Friday for comment.
But Kitchens’ campaign manager, Sam Hall, said he is absolutely certain the Chamber will get involve in the local state Supreme Court races.
Also, Hall said the early campaign contributions in the race between Kitchens and Smith may be misleading.
“If Jim Smith wants to raise more money than Mr. Kitchens, he will do it,” Hall said. “He (Smith) has the capability to raise more money. All of Mr. Kitchens’ contributions are from family and friends.”
The majority of Kitchens’ campaign contributions has come from out-of-state and in-state lawyers, according to records.
Hall said Kitchens has made it clear that he doesn’t want to know who is contributing to his campaign to prevent any appearance of impropriety.
Some lawyers who gave to Kitchens’ campaign are: F. Scott Baldwin Jr. of Marshall, Texas, who gave $1,000; Donald Brown of Dallas, who gave $2,500; Walter Costello Jr. of Salem, Mass., who gave $1,000; Richard Schwartz of Jackson, who gave $5,000; John Giddens of Jackson, who also gave $5,000; and W. Harvey Barton of Pascagoula, who gave $2,000.
Smith’s campaign contributors include business people, political action committees and lawyers.
Among the contributors are: Jackson businessman W.D. Mounger, who gave $5,000; Harrell Development & Real Estate of Brandon, which gave $5,000; Jackson homemaker Carolyn Mills, who gave $5,000; the Mississippi Road Builders Association PAC, which gave $3,000; and Jackson lawyer W. Scott Welch, who gave $1,000.