As an attorney representing citizens in cases of catastrophic injury, I depend upon courts being fair, evenhanded and impartial. Georgia judges are relatively nonpolitical and fair to both sides. An analysis of the Mississippi Supreme Court shows how bad it can get when courts become politicized.
According to an article by Alex Alston of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, over the past four and one-half years the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed 100% of defense verdicts in favor of corporations, hospitals, and insurance companies, but overturned 88% of jury verdicts that had been won in trial courts by negligence or fraud.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and insurance companies should be ecstatic over this state of affairs. Think of the money it saves the insurance companies not to pay a claim, knowing they are safe with the state Supreme Court.
But the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a lobbying arm of Big Business which pours millions into judicial campaigns, is still not satisfied. In a recent 37-page report, entitled Lawsuit Climate 2008, the Chamber ranks Mississippi as the 48th worst legal climate in the nation.
Therefore, one can expect the Chamber and its powerful allies to pour millions more into the judicial campaigns of our Supreme Court justices coming up for election in November to close any chance of victory for a poor maimed victim who has successfully worked his way through the judicial system to the Supreme Court. It is only then that these powerful entities will have a complete victory over anyone bold enough to think he has a claim for negligence or fraud.
How can it be that during the last 4 1/2 years powerful corporations, hospitals, and insurance companies have prevailed in the state Supreme Court in nearly every case? Can an injured plaintiff ever be right?
Why is it that in Mississippi and some other states, appellate courts have become so heavily politicized, and now hostile to injured citizens, while Georgia has avoided that fate? One explanation is that trial lawyers in Georgia years ago resisted the temptation to politicize the courts. The judges for the most part remained even-handed, not overly aligned with either side in tort litigation. Then, when those who have funded political assaults on state Supreme Court justices around the country tried to pick off a couple of our Georgia jurists, those very well-funded efforts failed decisively. This year, while there are numerous competitive candidates for an open Court of Appeals seat, there are no challengers to our moderately conservative Supreme Court justices who are up for re-election.
To preserve an independent, impartial judiciary, it is essential that both sides of the "tort wars" avoid excessively politicizing the courts, and maintain open communication between the trial bar and the business community. We must preserve the American ideal that no faction should control the courts in order to assure that everyone has access to a fair hearing.
Ken Shigley is an Atlanta trial attorney and Secretary of the State Bar of Gerogia.