CHARLESTON -- A recent poll shows that a majority of West Virginia voters support public financing of state Supreme Court elections.
The poll, conducted Feb. 21-24 by Anzalone Listzt Research, revealed Monday that 52 percent of voters want their tax money to be used for the elections. The poll was commissioned by the Justice at Stake Campaign and the Committee for Economic Development.
Voters were also reminded of the controversial 2004 campaign which saw millions of outside dollars spent for Brent Benjamin and Warren McGraw, leading to a 6-percent jump.
"West Virginia's voters understand that judges should be able to focus on the law, not on dialing for dollars," said Bert Brandenburg, executive director of Justice at Stake.
Gov. Joe Manchin has proposed a pilot public financing program for the two seats to be contested in the 2012 election. The House of Delegates recently approved that plan.
Sixty-eight percent of those polled said it was a "serious problem" that elected judges received contributions from those who appear before them in court. Seventy-eight percent said campaign expenditures have a "great deal of" or "some" influence on judges' decisions.
Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship's spending in support of Benjamin received national media attention. His independent expenditures group spent more than $3 million on advertisements against McGraw.
Eventually, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in 2009 that Benjamin should have recused himself from Massey's appeal of a $50 million decision against it. Even without Benjamin hearing the case, the state Supreme Court overturned the decision.
Receiving less coverage in that same election was the West Virginia Consumers for Justice's spending in support of McGraw. The group, funded largely by trial lawyers, spent more than $1.4 million.
Harman Mining owner Hugh Caperton, whose company was the recipient of the $50 million award that was later overturned, gave $10,000 to the group.
The Justice at Stake Campaign says it is a nonpartisan, nonprofit group working to preserve fair courts, while the Committee for Economic Development says it is nonprofit and nonpartisan too, and is made up of more than 200 business leaders and university presidents.
The margin of error of the poll was +/- 4 percent.
From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.