The Supreme Court ruled this week by a 5-4 decision, in Caperton v. A. T. Massey Coal Co. that judges must recuse themselves from cases involving people who spent exceptionally large sums to put them on the bench.
In the case, a coal company spent over $3 million to help remove the incumbant judge and support the challenger (more than the total amount spent by all other supporters and three times the amount spent by the candidates own committee) and then subsequently received a very favorable ruling on its business interests from the new judge which helped the company to put its competetors out of business. While the decision was lauded by many in the legal establishment, it also left many questions open that will now have to be worked out by lower courts.
This decision, of course, seems to affect civil matters more than criminal ones. Every criminal judge in New York City (where the judiciary is composed of a mix of elected and appointed judges) keeps the "New York Post/Daily News" rule in mind: "If I release this defendant, is it possible he might do something horrible, and I might end up on the cover of the Daily News?"
I urge anyone who is interested in learning more about the rules and financing of elections in New York City to visit the website of New York City Campaign Finance Board. It includes a well designed searchable database of all contributions to 2009 candidates for elected office.