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First Tort Reform, Now Court Reform, What’s Next?

Oliver Diaz was a Mississippi Supreme Court Justice. He was appointed to the Mississippi Supreme Court in March 2000. He was up for election in November 2000. The US Chamber launched what was literally a million dollar attack against him. The US Chamber took out snippets of his opinions and manipulated them to make his statements look outrageous and ridiculous. They concluded that Diaz “voted to overturn a cocaine conviction” and “let off a drug dealer with 100 pounds of pot.” They also “accused” him of taking $100,000 in contributions from personal injury lawyers. What hypocrisy!

His opponent was a conservative named Keith Starrett. The Chamber ran an ad stating something akin to “Starrett saved taxpayers over a half million dollars by forming the first drug court” and touted him as being a Baptist Deacon. To Starrett’s credit, he did come out publicly and state, “it is demeaning to the office and improper and it [the attack ads] should not have happened… I have done all I can do to get those stopped.” We all must take this public stand if we are to preserve an independent judiciary which does not give even the appearance of impropriety. Our Constitution demands it!

Diaz was forced to take out a loan and a fellow by the name of Paul Minor signed as guarantor.

Diaz, unbelievably, won the election but may have lost even more. Shortly after the election, the Feds indicted Diaz on Bribery charges related to the loan guaranteed by Mr. Minor, even though Diaz never sat on any case involving Minor. The jury, after a three month trial, acquitted Diaz on all charges. However, Diaz was re-indicted for tax evasion shortly after his first acquittal. After a week-long trial, Diaz was again acquitted of all charges. During the three years of being prosecuted, Diaz was not allowed to perform his duties on the Mississippi Supreme Court. What the US Chamber could not do through the elections, they did through a Federal prosecution.

Diaz ran for re-election in 2008. This time around the Law Enforcement Alliance for America ran ads attacking him. LEAA spent $660,000 to get Randy “Bubba” Pierce elected as a “tough on crime” judge. No doubt that LEAA served as a front group for the US Chamber. LEAA was one of the first “independent” groups to spend big money on a state supreme court race. Sound familiar? This week LEAA is spending a reported $400,000 on attack ads in the Arkansas Supreme Court race. Is it important for voters to know where this money is coming from? Is it important to know who is attempting to influence judicial elections? Is it important to know why huge contributions are being made to a judicial race?

Does the name American Future Fund sound familiar? This 501(c)(4) is currently spending megabucks by advertising for the Arkansas Attorney General’s race. This ad does not advocate for election of a specific candidate so it is free from disclosure of contributors and expenditures required of regular campaign advertising.

Now, “Court Reform” is here in Arkansas. We are definitely going to see more tort reform and attacks on the 7th Amendment by the US Chamber and others in the 2015 Legislative Session. We are now seeing the first rounds of court reform as launched by LEAA with money likely funneled from the US Chamber of Commerce. Last October, I attended the US Chamber’s Institute of Legal Reform 14th Annual Legal Reform Summit in Washington, D.C. US Chamber Institute for Legal Reform President, Lisa Rickard, specifically targeted Arkansas as the one of the next states for both tort reform and court reform. If you don’t think this is a threat to the Constitution, just look at Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, and other surrounding states.

Some people may think I’m a little crazy. But, I’m putting myself in this situation because our freedoms are in jeopardy if we sit back and do nothing. I’m not going to sit back and watch the Constitution be eroded even more, just like has happened with unconstitutional tort reform efforts. That’s why I’ve helped to organize this rally along with the help of many other dedicated lawyers and others. If you value our rights, I’ll see you on the Capitol Steps at 12:00 Noon on May 15, 2014.