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franklin county times

Attorney filing recusal motion is a donor, too

By Staff
August 25, 2004
By Sid Salter
Does the sword cut both ways, counselors? Funny thing about these judicial recusal motions floating around the state Supreme Court. Seems some would draw a distinction between the campaign contributions of business or medical community special interests and those given by the legal profession to the very judges who will decide the outcome of the cases they bring before the bar.
The recusal motions suggest emphatically that no Supreme Court justice who took a campaign contribution or a loan from a business entity that finds itself embroiled in litigation before the court should be allowed to rule in the case.
Venerable Oxford attorney Grady Tollison Jr. summed up the contention quite nicely in a recent recusal motion in the appeal of a case involving litigation between former Tritel wireless company employee Edwin Welsh of Madison and Tritel owners William M. Mounger and his father W.D. "Billy" Mounger.
Lawyers donate to judges
Tollison, in a motion citing a $10,000 campaign contribution by the Moungers to Justice Jess Dickinson and another $6,500 they gave to Chief Justice Jim Smith, made the following assertion: "Public confidence in the judicial process, and the integrity of the proceedings, can only be preserved by the disqualification of Chief Justice Smith and Justice Dickinson from participation in the appeal."
That sounds downright noble, downright honorable and downright lawyerly at least it does until one considers that Grady and Nina Tollison contributed $3,000 in 2002 to Dickinson's opponent in that election, former Presiding Justice Chuck McRae.
Had the Chucker prevailed in that election over Dickinson and had Tollison been representing the same client in the same case, one can only speculate as to whether he would have filed a recusal motion asking McRae to step down in the name of "public confidence in the judicial process and the integrity of the proceedings."
Lawyers like Tollison who offer recusal motions are doing two very things when they cry judicial "foul" over judges accepting donations or loans from business entities.
Advocacy and hypocrisy
First, they are representing the interests of their clients as legal advocates. The law requires that lawyers use every legal means at their disposal to be a vigorous, effective advocate for their clients. Should Tollison raise the issue of the Mounger donations to Dickinson and Smith? Absolutely.
But the second function of such recusal motions being filed by lawyers like Tollison is to expose the very rank hypocrisy inherent in the current judicial campaign finance system.
Tollison is whining on behalf of his client that the mean old judges took donations from his client's legal adversaries at the same time that Tollison himself is a campaign contributor to a judge who sat on the same court that decides the outcome of his cases.
Grady Tollison isn't a bad man or a bad lawyer. On the contrary, he's an ethical, reputable attorney playing the game by the rules that exist. It's the rules that stink and that should be changed.
But the rules cut both ways.
So as long as powerful, respectable trial lawyers like Tollison are passing out campaign donations to judges who will decide the outcome of their cases, it will stand to reason that business people like the Moungers and others will make similar donations to judges who will decide their cases and so on and so on.
Mississippi ought to get out of the judicial election business and adopt the Missouri method of appointive judges with retention elections. Campaign donations to judges should be subject to the same limits as other candidates.
Sid Salter is Perspective editor of The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson. Contact him at (601) 961-7084 or e-mail ssalter@clarionledger.com.

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