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Bar, campaign reform and citizens’ groups this week filed briefs urging the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a case challenging a West Virginia Supreme Court justice’s refusal to recuse himself from a case involving his chief campaign contributor. The American Bar Association, the Washington Appellate Lawyers Association and Public Citizen filed amicus briefs, along with the Brennan Center for Justice, the Reform Institute and the Campaign Legal Center. In Caperton v. Massey Coal, No. 08-22, the president of a coal company, represented by former Solicitor General Theodore B. Olson, argues that his due process rights were violated because West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Brent Benjamin refused to recuse himself from hearing the appeal of a $50 million jury verdict against a rival coal company. The rival’s chief executive officer contributed more than $3 million in direct and indirect support of Benjamin’s campaign for the bench. Benjamin ultimately was the deciding vote in overturning the verdict. The ABA and the other organizations urged the high court to grant review to address whether and when the due process clause of the Constitution requires judges to recuse themselves, or withdraw, from ruling in cases in which they have accepted campaign contributions from parties to a case. “This case perfectly illustrates how large contributions in judicial races can distort the judicial process, providing, at the very least, the appearance of corruption,” said Cecilia Martinez, executive director of the Reform Institute. “When litigants feel that they are at a disadvantage in court proceedings due to contributions to the presiding judge from the opposing party, respect for the rule of law suffers.”

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