Justice Larry V. Starcher of the West Virginia Supreme Court says he likes
his new colleague, Justice Brent D. Benjamin. But he has a funny way of showing
“It makes me want to puke,” said Justice Starcher, a Democrat, “to see
massive amounts of out-of-state money come in and buy a seat on our court.”
a Republican lawyer with no judicial experience, unseated a West Virginia
Supreme Court justice in 2004 with the help of about $3 million in
advertisements and other support from Don L. Blankenship, the chief executive
officer of Massey Energy, a coal-mining company. Massey has its headquarters in
Virginia, but the company says Mr. Blankenship has spent most of his life in
As far as Justice Starcher is concerned, “Now we have one justice who was
bought by Don Blankenship.”
Like other justices around the country who gained seats on their states’
highest courts with the help of large contributions and heavy independent
spending, Justice Benjamin sees no conflict in sitting on his supporters’ cases.
In April, he refused to disqualify himself from an appeal in a case in which a
jury had ordered a Massey affiliate to pay $50 million.
Justice Benjamin wrote that the motion seeking his disqualification was
filled with “surmise, conjecture and political rhetoric.” The motion, he added,
“may be condemned as an assault upon the administration of justice.” The case
itself is pending. Justice Starcher, who has called Massey Energy a rogue
company, is also facing calls for disqualification. Massey Energy sued the West
Virginia Supreme Court in federal court in August, arguing that allowing
justices to decide for themselves whether they should be disqualified was
Justice Starcher said he would not step aside.
“I’m against murder,” he said, “but I can be fair to murderers.”
Justice Benjamin declined to comment.
The sums involved in two cases before the Illinois Supreme Court were even
As Judge Lloyd A. Karmeier, a Republican, campaigned for a seat on the court
in 2004, the two largest class-action judgments in the state’s history, against
State Farm and Philip Morris, were pending in the court. The briefs were filed
and the cases argued before he joined the court.
Judge Karmeier raised and spent $4.8 million, much of it from supporters of
the two companies. More than $350,000 came from employees and lawyers of State
Farm Insurance and those of groups that filed briefs supporting the company.
Even more — depending on how money contributed through intermediaries is counted
— came from people and groups associated with Philip Morris.
In August 2005, Justice Karmeier cast the deciding vote to reverse a $456
million breach of contract award against State Farm. In December 2005, he cast
the deciding vote in the Philip Morris case, reversing a $10 billion judgment
against the company in a suit over light cigarettes.
But in November 2005, in a second State Farm case, Justice Karmeier recused
himself, without explanation. The remaining justices voted 6 to 0 in favor of
Justice Karmeier declined to comment through a spokesman, who said the
justice was constrained because the
United States Supreme Court was considering whether to hear the Philip