As readers of this blog know, I have been a constant critic of the lack of justice being dispensed by the Michigan Supreme Court and I have asked Michigan residents to contact legislators and complain. I hinted at the fact that Michigan is not alone in dispensing injustice. Recently, I received graphic confirmation of this fact in an article recently written about the Mississippi Supreme Court by Alex A. Alston, Jr., a prominent Mississippi trial lawyer.
Mr. Alston practices in Jackson, MS,has litigated hundreds of cases in 44 years of practice, and has been known, primarily, as a defense attorney. He has argued many cases before the Mississippi Supreme Court, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and other circuits, and the U.S. Supreme Court. He is a past president of the Mississippi Bar and is a legal writer and teacher of trial advocacy. In short, he does not have a long standing plaintiff bias (like me)and, he is not a novice.
The premise of Mr. Alston’s article is, and I quote from it, “If you are a victim of personal injury, malpractice or corporate fraud, you have almost no chance of having a jury verdict in your favor affirmed by the state [Mississippi] Supreme Court”. His research indicates that during the most recent 4 1/2 years, 88 percent of all plaintiff jury verdicts have been reversed by the Mississippi Supreme Court. During that same period, a plaintiff’s success rate in overturning a defense verdict is even more astonishing. That number is zero! You read that correctly; according to the Alston article, defendant corporations, hospitals and insurance companies prevailed at the Mississippi Supreme Court level, 100 percent of the time.
I have reported in this forum on political efforts to limit court access in my home state, Michigan. Well, according to Alston, the same is true in Mississippi. How do we stop this bias? Alston opines that the average citizen needs to “get involved” in the election. Because we elect state supreme court justices are elected, money and politics play a large role in determining outcome. So does rhetoric. Supreme court justices are not “tough on crime” (purview of prosecutor and sentencing judge), says Alston; they merely determine whether a criminal received a fair trial.
“Voters should be wary of Supreme Court candidates who insist that they have been especially fair to large corporations. These are the justices who are now making it almost impossible for a victim to prevail in the Supreme Court, even after a jury verdict is rendered in the victim’s favor.” In other words, you are one accident or injury away from being the next victim of a biased supreme court, unless the public takes action and reverses this trend.
Alston encourages citizens to check out from whom a particular candidate for supreme court is receiving her/his contributions as it is probably the best indication of how a justice will rule. Contribution lists are available on the various secretary of state Web sites in each state. Look for the number and size of corporate donations, a strong indication that individual rights will not be upheld. Likewise, if donors contributing are from pro-plaintiff organizations, one can reasonably expect pro-justice rulings.
Alston opines that neither is acceptable. He states:
“He [a judge] takes an oath to be fair and impartial to all regardless of the parties’ status and he should simply follow the law. Nothing short of that is acceptable. Our entire judicial system is built on a “rule of law.” In other words, it makes no difference whether you are a prince or a pauper, the law must be precisely the same for all. A court that substitutes its opinion for that of a jury, or simply decides a case for the benefit of a favored party, tears the basic fabric of our judicial system to shreds. If the rule of law is not followed, the entire foundation of our judicial system is undermined. The public has a right to expect the Supreme Court to follow the rule of law and decide the cases before it fairly and impartially without favor to any party regardless of status, race, creed or color.”
I applaud Alston for his brave, thoughtful and honest article. Fairness and impartiality are the cornerstones of our legal system and political influence is destroying our once great justice system. You, the voters, can sit on the sidelines and do nothing, or, you can educate yourselves about the candidates, the source of their contribution, and their positions on the issues. Then, most importantly, you must vote for the candidate whose positions most closely mirror your personal beliefs. Only when judges are once again elected by all of the people, instead of by the rich and powerful, will we be a country of “liberty and justice for all”.
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