Measuring Justice(s) in Louisiana

An article in today’s New York Times, by Adam Liptak, reports on a forthcoming article in the Tulane Law Review, co-authored by Vernon Palmer (Tulane Law) and John Levendis (Loyola-New Orleans economics). As Liptak reports it, Palmer – a comparative law scholar – had long been struck by the ability of Louisiana Supreme Court justices to hear cases involving individuals who had previously made campaign contributions to them.

Quite reasonably, Palmer wrote a letter to each of the justices, recommending adoption of a rule mandating disqualification in such cases. Receiving no reply, he wrote again. Once more, no response was forthcoming. Some might have given up on the quixotic endeavor at this point. Being at academic, however, Palmer instead decided to recruit Levendis to help him do an empirical study of campaign contributions to the Court’s justices and relevant case outcomes.

Their basic calculations indicated the justices to have voted in favor of their contributors, on average, 65% of the time. (In the case of some justices, the level rose to 80%.) But the really interesting findings came when they used voting patterns in cases without contributors as their control. Liptak is worth quoting:

Justice John L. Weimer, for instance, was slightly pro-defendant in cases where neither side had given him contributions, voting for plaintiffs 47 percent of the time. But in cases where he received money from the defense side (or more money from the defense when both sides gave money), he voted for the plaintiffs only 25 percent of the time. In cases where the money from the plaintiffs’ side dominated, on the other hand, he voted for the plaintiffs 90 percent of the time. That is quite a swing. . . .

Larger contributions had larger effects, the study found. Justice Catherine D. Kimball was 30 percent more likely to vote for a defendant with each additional $1,000 donation. The effect was even more pronounced for Justice Weimer, who was 300 percent more likely to do so.

Not having seen the article itself, it’s hard to evaluate the quality of the authors’ empirics. If they’re even a little right, though, it seems like quite a finding. And perhaps quite telling, about justice and the elected justice.

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7 Responses

  1. Were the contributions all from the lawyers, or were there cases involving direct contributions from the parties?

  2. Robert Ahdieh says:

    Not exactly clear from the reports on the article, and I haven’t been able to dig up the article itself. It seems to include contributions by the parties (perhaps even as opposed to contributions by their counsel).

  3. Prof says:

    The news article is interesting. First, in the interest of full disclosure, I wish to point out that I have known Justice Weimer, considered to be the worst in the Palmer and Levendis paper, since 1985. I taught with him at a medium size state university in Louisiana. I was a big contributor to Weimer’s initial campaign, having given my friend a whopping $75 for his campaign. Most of his campaign funds came from those making donations of $50 or less. It certainly seems unlikely that such small amounts would influence anyone.

    Most of the donations to Weimer and his fellow Louisiana Supreme Court Judges come from attorneys and other judges, and these are almost all small donations.

    The article raises the issue of problems of an elected judiciary. Certainly, donors to political campaigns expect that their candidate will vote in a particular way. Still, the problem is not so much that judges might be swayed by their contributors, but rather that judges might be swayed by their voters. If a judge is worried that following the law in deciding a case will be unpopular and lead to a loss at the polls, we have a real problem.

    Robert, you are not the only one who cannot find the original article. Isn’t that a bit surprising that a study that should alarm is not available. (I emailed Levendis requesting the study yesterday and am still waiting for his reply. In all fairness to him, he probably cannot get to his office because Loyola and Tulane both are right on prime Mardi Gras parade routes and all the schools in Louisiana are closed.) The Tulane Law Review will not even release the paper yet. The authors have apparently gone to the media, but have not made the paper available to skeptics.

    I am also a bit skeptical about the quality of reviewing done at an in-house student reviewed journal, where the students are reviewing a paper by one of their professors. I am also a bit skeptical about the statistical sophistication of 3rd year law students who are doing such a review. If this paper were done correctly, they would have to find some way to control for what is really a reverse causation problem.

    In a 1997 paper by Bronars and Lott in the Journal of Law and Economics, Bronars and Lott examine the effect of donations on votes of members of Congress and concluded that it for the most part, Congressmen do not vote certain ways because of contributions, but rather, donors make contributions to Congressmen with like values.

    How Palmer and Levendis control for this reverse causation cannot be determined because they have not released the study. As for now, there is no story here because there is no study to read yet.

    This advance release of conclusions to the media without also releasing the study is as far from being ethical scholarship as anything these judges have done.

  4. statprof says:

    I’m an academic statistician who was asked by the Tulane Law Review to review this analysis. Based on the data presented in the draft report, there is absolutely no evidence to conclude that the court as a whole is unduly influenced by contributions, and I was very dismayed to discover that the authors had released their “findings” to the NY Times. There does appear to be statistically significant evidence against the two justices specifically mentioned in the article, but not against any of the other five justices on the current court.

  5. It goes without saying that a large proportion of Louisiana supreme court cases come from the lower courts. And, it also goes without saying that just as campaign contributions can (perhaps do) sway Louisiana supreme court justices, contributions can also sway lower judges’ rulings. Hopefully, the upcoming Tulane Law Review which shall divulge facts about campaign contributions swaying judges’ decisions will set off a probe of Louisiana’s Judiciary.

    Although it might be hard to prove whether contributions or bribes or perks influence judges’ decisions, IT IS NOT HARD to prove facts of manifest unfair, contrary-to-law rulings which occur far too often in Louisiana judges’ courtrooms! Further, it is glaring that some judges are clueless about jurisprudence, some are inept, and some judges deliberately issue unjust rulings for favored litigant(s).

    Also, off the top of my head comes to mind, the incredibly disgusting remarks made by Louisiana’s Justice Jeannette Knoll. Justice Knoll’s dissenting opinion about removing former judge Wendell Miller from the bench seemed full of misplaced sympathy for Miller’s loss of job, and exhibited total disregard for people ill-affected because of Miller’s proven lack of judicial ethics, including having sex in his chambers with another man’s wife. Knoll seemed to unable to conceptualize the bribes and favors Miller had to be under compulsion to disseminate –and accommodate others to commit malfeasance while covering for Miller, as well as hush money and favors and abusing his public position. The fact that Miller’s escapades were even reported in the news, and a lawsuit award paid after Miller became sued was not enough for Justice Knoll to conclude that Miller’s days as a judge should have been history long ago.

    Yet, whether cronyism, or contributions or whatever, the Federal as well as the State court systems in Louisiana appear to exist to gratify judges and not to facilitate justice. (See the links below concerning the long overdue call to impeach federal Judge Thomas Porteous.)

    Also, unfortunately, niceties of colleague courtesy hinders attorneys from stating disparaging facts pertaining to fellow attorneys, even when such facts are irrefutably true. As such, wiggle room helps guilty lawyers and judges obfuscate activities of judicial collusion. But, res ipsa loquitur facts and evidence of court connivance cannot, nor should not be prettied up -especially when wiggle room steers away from exposure of wrongdoing, and steers away from corrective measures.

    But even more critical, is that people and businesses have been irreparably harmed because of prejudiced, unjust judicial rulings. For myself, and people like me, I vigorously raise my voice and my pen; and name names –along with what they did / do on my website! (If Louisiana had had an Attorney General other than former Charles Foti, a lot misfeasance would have been revealed since consumer law violations are rampant in this State.) At any rate, the Louisiana Judiciary may look the other way, and the supreme court of Louisiana may continue its biased and atrocious way of doing things, but, even as it occurred for Senator David Vitter, the truth will continue to come out.

    Consistent with Louisiana’s infamous corruption title– the court systems of Louisiana as a whole is a despicable regime. I personally believe that –as long as corruption, judiciary tryanny, and cronyism remains alive and well here –rather than pursue a Louisiana law degree, a person is better off bagging groceries at a friendly local grocer.

    Unequivocal, prima facie facts and evidence of judicial corruption is posted in plain view at The following are links to certain postings which corroborate my accusations about the Civil court systems in Louisiana.


    Supreme Court of Louisiana Writ Application

    Odor of Judicial Corruption / Cronyims in Louisiana 4th Circuit

    Federal Judges’ Pay Raise; New Orleans Federal Judiciary Call To Impeach

    United States Chief Justice Roberts, Call to Impeach Judge Thomas Porteous

    New Orleans’ Corruption Watchdog? Inspector General?

    Judicial Corruption, Deception, Attorneys Brett Furr, Herschel Adcock, Matthew Mullins, Freddie Mac, Real Estate Flipping, etc.

    2006O2361 In RE: Judge Wendell R. Miller

    Dangerous Clerk of Court, Dale Atkins: Killing Us Softly

  6. Robert Ahdieh says:

    Thanks for all the thoughtful comments.

    I fully concur with the concerns about the unavailability of the paper, given press coverage of it. I too have e-mailed the authors, to inquire about its availability and to see if they might wish to post some response/further detail about their results.

    That said, two quick thoughts on the comments above:

    First, apropos of statprof’s actual analysis of the article and its data, I would think that statistically significant evidence that campaign contributions impact the voting of two of seven justices of a state supreme court remains an important finding, even if no similar effect can be identified as to the others (or even is falsified by the data).

    Second, as to the size of donations, raised by Prof, one question would be whether those numbers remain at the same levels, in the years since his initial campaign. Even if they have, moreover, might the potential bias triggered by campaign contributions come at least in part from the very fact of contribution, as opposed to be size? Of course, this becomes less true as the number of contributors increases, lowering the salience of any single donation. Here, of course, whatever data is available in the paper would be useful, for purposes of analysis.

  7. lynn allen says:

    does anyone know of a judge george micheal canaday in lake charles la???