Rarely has the reputation of Mississippi’s judicial system been at a lower ebb.
Why is public confidence in the legal profession and in the state’s judiciary low? A significant part of the reason is that the ever-escalating war of political contributions between big business and the trial lawyers in state judicial elections has turned those elections into bidding wars for judges in the political area.
Now, the Scruggs/Langston affairs suggest to the public that not all the bidding was done through campaign contributions. That’s an ominous, sobering reality for the voters of this state to process.
The price of judicial elections – funded primarily either by the trial lawyers who argue cases before the court or the business/medical/insurance special interests who are the targets of lawsuits – is climbing.
The average price of a state Supreme Court campaign in 2000 escalated to a then-unheard-of figure of $379,839 with at least one of the winners raising three times that amount.
Two years later in 2002, the average price of a Supreme Court race in Mississippi had escalated to $605,338 with the winner raising over $1 million.
In the 2008 judicial elections, four incumbent Supreme Court judges face re-election bids. That means they have begun raising money for their “non-partisan” campaigns that will be conducted with all of the code words that identify them with one side or the other. While there should be nothing to consider but competence, fairness and character in selecting a judge, they will have to attract voters’ attention and cater to partisan and special interests.