Friday, January 15, 2010


Do money gifts to judges effect their rulings?
Good question. Just don’t expect judges to answer it.
Some months ago Vernon Palmer, a professor at Tulane Law School, wrote to each of the Justices of the Louisiana Supreme Court to ask them to make available details of campaign contributions to the judges from litigators who appear before them and before the courts that the Justices supervise.
Professor Palmer received no response. A second letter from Professor Palmer likewise was ignored by the busy Justices.
No response to an inquiry is, of course, a response. None of your damn business.
A coordinated non-response is also revealing. When a covey of judges sitting on the same judicial bench, ignore a letter from a law school professor, it’s reasonable to conclude that those seven people have made a joint decision to stiff-arm the prof.
This set of state Supreme Court Justices are not about to respond when a law professor asks them to account for their ethics.  
The Justices will not even be polite when an inquiry is directed to them about their own conduct. They will not even answer the mail. Why let anyone get into all that when we can take the money and pretend the gift does not influence our decisions.  
And so, Professor Palmer, ignored by judges who would not facilitate his research, went a fateful step further. Working with John Levendis, associate professor of economics at Loyola University in New Orleans, the scholars tracked electoral contributions to the Justices against their decisions for or against the gift giver. In 2008, their study was published in the law review of Tulane Law School. Vernon V. Palmer and John Levendis, "The Louisiana Supreme Court in Question: An Empirical and Statistical Study of the Effects of Campaign Money on the Judicial Function," Tulane Law Review, Vol. 82, Issue 4, 1291-1314 (2008).
To the surprise of no one, the article’s conclusions pointed to a correlation between the gifting of judges and favorable decisions benefitting the gift givers. The conclusion was tentative. No one made a claim of a definitive association. More research would be required.
At this point hysteria set in at the Louisiana State Supreme Court. The Court engineered a fusillade of personally hostile critiques directed at the authors of the report.
A couple of Louisiana litigators hustled into print in the very next edition of the Louisiana State University law review with their own critique of the Palmer-Levendis study. The musings of a couple lawyers, with business before the very court that has been criticized, cannot be taken seriously as an objective critique of statistical research. Their article is worthless. 
The attorneys’ fly-by at serious research is nothing more than an acolyte's benediction. The lawyers' document, hurried into print at a fawning law journal, is a proffer of absolution, a solemn pantomime, the making of the dollar sign over the bowed heads of the judges. In the name of the gold, the sliver and the greenback. Aaaaamen. 
The Justices, blessed and renewed by this put-up job, transformed the acolytes’ encyclical into a press release and posted it at the high court’s website. See E. Phelps Gay and Kevin R. Tully, “Rebuttal of  ‘The Louisiana Supreme Court in Question: An Empirical and Statistical Study of the Effects of Campaign Money on the Judicial Function’,” June 12, 2008.  (If the document is removed by the time you look for it, let me know. You should also visit ) 
A transparently worthless diatribe against two scholars was not enough for the Justices. They were not yet satisfied that Professors Palmer and Levendis had been put in their place. Fortunately, Tulane Law School rode to the further rescue of the state Supreme Court Justices.
The age-old incestuous exchange of favors is taboo in some cultures. But according to our French Quarter and Uptown New Orleans observations, party-time happily happens between the be-robed and the be-deaned at the B-law schools of Louisiana. (Now. Now. I am a graduate of one of ’em.)  
Enough background. Lo, the (then) Dean of Tulane’s Law School sent a letter of “apology” to each of the Justices of the Louisiana Supreme Court. This was done even though reports in what used to be called “the press” find Professor Palmer standing behind his research. 
Never you mind. While the Justices of the Louisiana Supreme Court were pleased to ignore Professor Palmer’s earlier letters, they were so thrilled to receive Dean Ponoroff’s abject letter of apology that they post it, too, at the Court website.
In his letter, Dean Ponoroff implied that the authors of the Study essentially disowned their own research. Dean Ponoroff wrote that the scholars, now under attack by a dean or two, had “reviewed their underlying data” and then “advised the Tulane Law Review that there were numerous errors in the recording of the data that formed the basis of their study [. . .].”
Writing “on behalf of Tulane Law School” the Dean informed the wounded Justices that “the law review will issue an erratum on its website.” The same “erratum” will be sent, wrote the Dean, to all subscribers; electronic archives will likewise be “hyperlinked” to the erratum.
Wow. A “hyperlink” to an “erratum” means this could be serious business. Or is this erratum hyperlink merely a measure of the reach of state Supreme Court justices, who are seriously pissed? I move and second: seriously pissed.
What is also serious is that two supposedly scholarly publications at two law schools within the jurisdiction of a state Supreme Court, were pre-empted so as to placate the ire of the Justices.
The demeaning manipulation of the two publications (and their student staff) point to an entrenched subservience by important members of the Louisiana legal community.  Everyone on both banks of the Mississippi is just shocked at the notion that leading legal lights are judicial acolytes. For the past two years, this episode has been the buzz of Mardi Gras and JazzFest, too. Yeah. Right.  
But even a trivial “critique” and a so-sorry letter from a law school dean were not enough.
The justices realized that a rushed-into-print bogus rebuttal, written by beholdin’ officers of their own court, plus an abject apology by a law school dean, who had no part whatsoever in any scientific assessment of peer-reviewed research, might be seen as cartoonish. Yep. It is. 
So, the state Supreme Court engineered a further “study” by three economists, who zealously joined the chorus of denunciation.
It would be one thing for scientists (for the sake of argument, let us think of economists as scientists) to conduct their own study. This sort of professionalism would involve an extended period for research and at least an attempt to place their own results in a peer-reviewed journal, where a debate might be engendered about the impact of campaign contributions upon judicial decisions.
That is not what happened. Why not? An actual debate among scientists would not permit the Justices to retain control of the process of character assignation directed at those who had criticized them.
So, the three economists –Moe, Larry and Curley in this episode – published their work at . . . you guessed it . . . the website of the Louisiana Supreme Court.  (If the item has been removed by the time you hunt for it, go to:
How much public money did the Justices pay the economists for their “research?”
Good question. But that question likely will not be answered by the Justices. They receive and publicize letters that please them and ignore the rest of their mail. I bet they won’t even hyperlink this question to an erratum.
Louisiana State Supreme Court Justices “continually decide cases involving their own donors without recusing themselves” 
Worthwhile to emphasize is that the authors of the original study have not disowned the measured conclusions they reached. On Sept 15, 2008, Professor Palmer said, despite the court-sponsored criticisms, that “the study's conclusions, broadly speaking, are the same.” Palmer added that a central finding in the study has not been disputed: justices “continually decide cases involving their own donors without recusing themselves.  That right there is the most important part of the study.” See Note 10 and commentary at:
By the way, there is other research on the influence of gifts-to-deciders, which has not been engineered into print by lawyer suck-ups, and judges’ hired-gun hacks.
These studies indicate that gifts of any size create an unconscious inclination by the recipient to want to do favors for the gift-giver.
Recent studies of brain activity indicate that “Gifts affect the decision-making process in ways that are very hard to control,” said Michael J. Friedlander, director of the Baylor University neuroscience department. Friedlander, again: “Even when you are aware of it, even when you want to be objective, you can't help it.” (“Doctors moving to limit gifts from drug firms,” Baltimore Sun, May 20, 2008.) See also MAY IT PLEASE THE COURT by Richard Baldwin Cook (Nativa LCC, page 178, at or for e-book download.)
Moe, Larry and Curley apparently know nothing about these studies.
Wop. Wop. Wop.