When it comes to back room politics, no one plays the game better than Cliff Taylor, Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, who is up for re-election. While ignoring the law to reach result-oriented outcomes that favor large corporations and insurance companies has become commonplace in his court room, a recent in-depth investigation has revealed exactly how deep his interests in protecting Big Business are. Although there is no record of Cliff Taylor recusing himself from conflicts of interest regarding special interests, it has now come to light that Cliff Taylor serves on the Advisory Board of George Mason University‘s Law and Economic Center (LEC). The LEC is a non-profit organization whose anti-regulatory and market-oriented intensive educational seminars for judges have been the object of strong controversy since a 2001 expose by the ABC news show "20/20."
Not only is Chief Justice Taylor an enthusiastic advocate of the LEC’s programs, he’s also an influential board member who advises the LEC on its programs and practice and is listed as a private donor. In doing so, Cliff Taylor dictates, controls, and mandates the financing and content of all the judicial seminars in which judges are bombarded with “suggestions” about how to “control” run away verdicts against deep pocket corporations, and are offered legal tips on how to close the court room door to victims.
These private judicial seminars, also known as judicial junketing, have been funded by large corporations such as Exxon Mobile, Allstate, and State Farm. Statistics show that the LEC has received about 68 grants totaling $4.4 million dollars to help transform these so-called educational seminars to luxurious getaways for judges around the nation. The organization has come under fire for sponsoring all-expense paid private judicial seminars held at luxurious resorts, where judges are exposed to libertarian/pro-big corporation ideology on liability reform and environmental regulations between rounds of golf and lavish dinners.
Naturally, the question becomes: could Chief Justice Taylor be the product of successful lobbying by the big corporations? Or, can we still believe that Cliff Taylor’s association with these private judicial seminars and his authoritative role in such a controversial organization is free of any judicial impropriety?
It is obviously inconsistent with the notion of judicial ethics for Cliff Taylor to preach impartiality and fairness to the people of Michigan, but at the same time serve on the board of a junketing organization that takes money from corporations to influence how judges rule. It’s outrageous enough that these junkets continue, and it’s doubly outrageous that Chief Justice Taylor sits on the board of the largest junketing organization in the nation. It stands to reason that at least one or more of Cliff Taylor’s judicial “favors” have been granted to corporate entities from whom the LEC has accepted financial gifts, and there may be cases where he should have rightfully stepped down.
Court cases must be won by arguments, not by influence, and that means putting a stop to Cliff Taylor and his efforts at influencing the judicial process to protect wealthy corporate buddies. Replacing Cliff Taylor at the November election will be the only way to restore the public’s trust in Michigan’s judicial system.