Times were good in the coal business and Conspiring Coal’s cost benefit analysis revealed greater profits could be had if it could run Noharmin Mines out of business. A jury found that’s exactly what Conspiring Coal did and awarded Noharmin Mines $50 million in damages. Desperately needing to dig out of this deep hole, Dastardly Don, the owner of Conspiring Coal Company, turned to the judges to “tilt the scales” in his favor. His $3 million in campaign contributions to Supreme Court candidate Icahn B. Baught eclipsed all other favored funds combined. After Baught won by fewer than 50,000 votes and cast the deciding vote to reverse the $50 million judgment, Noharmin Mines cried foul.
Icahn B. Baught refused to recuse himself; there was no proof that he was biased or prejudiced. He assured his fellow justices he was fair and impartial. The United States Supreme Court disagreed. Noharmin did not have to prove bias. It only had to show the appearance of impropriety. Would a reasonable and prudent person, knowing the objective facts, harbor doubts about Justice Icahn B. Baught’s ability to be fair and impartial? The Ultimate Supremes found that the probability of actual bias on the part of Justice Baught was too high to be constitutionally tolerable. They reversed.
Tilting the Scales Note. Yes, there still is “justice” in the world. It’s one thing to try to understand the law and to adjust your behavior to try to tilt the scales of judicial opinion in your favor. It’s quite another thing to bend the post that balances the judicial scales. The standard requiring Justice Baught to recuse himself was the appearance of impropriety or impartiality. It doesn’t look or smell like it will be fair. That’s not the same thing at all as a criminal case of bribery (or even a civil claim, for that matter). In that circumstance, objective proof of bias must be shown.
Whether judges should be appointed or elected has long been a topic of debate across the country, particularly Texas. We are in the minority of states that seat judges by election. As recently as last week, the Dallas Morning News ran an editorial “Ruling Should Push Texas to Reform Judiciary.”
For more information, see the West Virginia case of Caperton et. al. v. A.T. Massey Coal Co., Inc. et. al., decided by the United States Supreme Court on June 8, 2009. This article is a parody on the reported facts of that case and is not intended to be a reflection on the character or judgment of the actual parties.