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Scales of Justice
The new way to purchase favorable court rulings:
As state courts across the nation prepare to referee numerous public pension reform disputes, a gaggle of interested parties — from major corporations to the Koch brothers — will next week sponsor an expenses-paid conference on public pension reform for judges who may decide the cases’ fates.

Conference funders, which include ExxonMobil, Google and Wal-Mart, could benefit from efforts to slash benefits for public employees. Alternative approaches to shore up state budgets would likely require higher corporate taxes, fewer corporate subsidies and reduced government services, all of which would be bad for business.

The three-day gathering in a Charleston, S.C., hotel is hosted by George Mason University’s Law & Economics Center.

Other funders include the Koch brothers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Ford, and General Electric. But since this is a symposium for supposedly impartial and unbiased judges, there won't be any ideological tilt to the conference will there? Just kidding:
What is clear from the conference’s agenda is that attending judges will spend most of their time inside Charleston, S.C.’s Francis Marion Hotel listening to lectures and panel discussions led mainly by advocates of public pension reform. Bill Lurye, general counsel of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, stands out as one of the only panelists offering a union perspective on the pension debate.
Even the name of the conference—"Judicial Symposium on the Economics and Law of Public Pension Reform"—makes assumptions about what needs to happen with public pensions, and the fact that judges should become armchair economists in order to establish legal policy. And that, for the sponsors, is surely the point.

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Comment Preferences

  •  We'll fight them on the beaches... (16+ / 0-)

    Sorry for the Godwin but damn, it is like fighting the freaking Nazis. They're freaking everywhere and relentlessly attacking our democracy.

    GOP 2014 strategy -- Hire clowns, elephants, and a ringmaster and say "a media circus" has emerged and blame Democrats for lack of progress. Have pundits agree that "both sides are to blame" and hope the public will stay home on election day.

    by ontheleftcoast on Fri Apr 25, 2014 at 03:14:20 PM PDT

  •  Yikes. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    hbk, Paragryne, Buckeye Nut Schell

    That scares me.

    "The extinction of the human race will come from its inability to EMOTIONALLY comprehend the exponential function." -- Edward Teller

    by lgmcp on Fri Apr 25, 2014 at 03:18:42 PM PDT

  •  Parker Bros. is going to be discontinuing (6+ / 0-)

    Monopoly, and replacing it with Oligarchy.

    Hey GOP! You'll get my Obamacare when you pry it from my cold, dead hands. And thanks to Obamacare, that just may be awhile.

    by jazzmaniac on Fri Apr 25, 2014 at 03:19:11 PM PDT

  •  "Reform" is a flag word. To me it means "change (6+ / 0-)

    i.e., re-form the law" so it doesn't do what it was legislated to do.  That's how the Repubs are using the word.

    And I'm tired of Godwin.  My remembrance goes back to the early '40s and I know Nazis when I see them.

    As a dear friend remarked, "I'm not calling 'em 'Neo-N" because there is nothing new about them.

    I agree, ontheleftcoast.

    Feminism--the radical belief that women are human beings.

    by Mayfly on Fri Apr 25, 2014 at 03:24:12 PM PDT

  •  Is it ethical for judges to accept this trip? (5+ / 0-)

    Taking the road less traveled since 1967 .

    by Paragryne on Fri Apr 25, 2014 at 03:29:13 PM PDT

    •  Good point. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Paragryne, opinionated, laurnj

      Wouldn't any judge who attended have to recuse him- or herself from presiding in any case in which these folks are a party in litigation?

      •  I would hope so. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        laurnj, SGA

        But did Clarence Thomas set a precedent?  Bad example.  He has no ethics.

        Taking the road less traveled since 1967 .

        by Paragryne on Fri Apr 25, 2014 at 03:40:54 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Precedents don't matter (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          anymore. Judges that are bought and paid for will just do what they are ordered to do. Ethics don't matter.
          What to do...on any and all matters before the judge make it a requirement of public record for each proceding a report of all the judge's trips/gifts/etc that they recieved.
          And get it public! A little  shame can go a long way.
          It would be quite nice to know what judges/ congresspeople and such are going before hand so the shaming is caught on camara, say at the airport or at the venue itself.  

          •  That's been the rule for several years (0+ / 0-)

            in the federal courts (don't know about state courts). The information about a judge's attendance at seminars like this one is supposed to be posted on his or her court's website within 30 days. Compliance hasn't been perfect but it's pretty good. The agenda, speakers, etc. are posted in advance on Each judge files an annual financial disclosure reporting trips, gifts, etc. These can be found online, and the press reports on them frequently. Litigants have access to this information and can ask judges to recuse themselves if they think it's warranted.

            The seminars themselves aren't secret -- if you want to protest at the next one, the dates and locations are freely available. They're not hiding their attendance and they're not ashamed of it. Private Koch Bros confabs are a different animal entirely -- those could stand a big dose of sunlight.

    •  Under the guise of nuetral further education... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      unfortunately (legally) yes.  Under what it is (ethically) no.

      DISCLOSURE STATEMENT:  I am not a lawyer nor do I play one on TV.  I have never worked for or represented anyone in this fucked up version of reality AS a lawyer but if I did, I would advise them all to just come out and admit they are bought and paid for shills and let's just get all this cowardly bullshit, dancing around the truth out of the way.  Man-up and admit that we, the average people of this country are all screwed and the plutocrats have won... GAME OVER!

      You know they want to... they always want to.  

      I think he wants to say it. I think he’s pissed off that he’s gotta hide from this. I think he wants to say that he made a command decision and that’s the end of it.

      "Perhaps the sentiments contained in the following pages, are not YET sufficiently fashionable to procure them general favour..."

      by Buckeye Nut Schell on Fri Apr 25, 2014 at 03:54:59 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Broad brush, much? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Many judges and judges are honorable public servants.  

        "The extinction of the human race will come from its inability to EMOTIONALLY comprehend the exponential function." -- Edward Teller

        by lgmcp on Fri Apr 25, 2014 at 04:03:47 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  As to federal judges, yes, as long as (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      their attendance and the agenda, speakers and funders are disclosed under the policy that's been in place for several years. (Outcries like this one -- more often about environmental law & takings clause issues -- and some congressional prodding, gave rise to the policy.) The trip part of it isn't that big a deal, although it is considered a reportable gift. The real issue isn't that these events are junkets to buddy up to the judge on the golf course -- it's that they're hard core efforts to get the judges' minds right on the substantive topics. George Mason has been getting judges' minds right on Law & Econ for years now. They're usually a little more balanced than this one seems to be, but there's never been a question about where they're coming from. The named corporations are among hundreds of funders, and they fund many different George Mason Law & Econ seminars for judges, as you can see in this article, and as is regularly reported to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.

      If litigants think attendance at the seminar should trigger recusal in a specific case, they can ask the judge to recuse -- that's a main purpose of the disclosure requirement. It's unlikely on this specific topic, I would think, but not necessarily on others.

      •  I agree that the bribery is relatively trivial, (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        a venal rather than a cardinal sin, but it seems particularly egregious when the political policy being urged upon these judges calls itself "reform," with that term's overtones of self-congratulatory moralism.

        "Think of something to make the ridiculous look ridiculous." -- Molly Ivins

        by dumpster on Fri Apr 25, 2014 at 10:44:10 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Wish I had a way to be a fly on the wall (0+ / 0-)

    and a recorder in my back pocket.

    by Alizaryn on Fri Apr 25, 2014 at 03:35:08 PM PDT

  •  AFL-CIO really needs to stage an informational (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    laurnj, lgmcp, Lily O Lady

    picket at this event.

    The vulture capitalists who really want to pillage Soc. Sec. are using this issue as a back door or consolation prize.

    The workers EARNED these pensions as part of their contractually obligated compensation PERIOD. Maybe they should have committed billion dollar fraud and extortion like the Wall Street bonus keepers did, then there'd be no question. But they didn't, they just went to work and trusted their decision to take future pension benefits over "cash-in-the-check" would be honored by honorable people. I guess that's too "20th century".

    21st Century America: The distracted, superficial perception of a virtual reality. Gettov Milawn

    by geez53 on Fri Apr 25, 2014 at 03:45:41 PM PDT

    •  Or, more to the point, develop materials (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      laurnj, geez53, Villanova Rhodes, SGA

      to publicize the legal arguments and precedents for requiring corporations to keep faith with pensioners, and offer them via affordable and appealing channels.

      "The extinction of the human race will come from its inability to EMOTIONALLY comprehend the exponential function." -- Edward Teller

      by lgmcp on Fri Apr 25, 2014 at 04:06:40 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  The comparisons to Nazis in the comments (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Krush, Villanova Rhodes

    merely suggest to me that there are people on the left who are as off-the-wall as the people on the right.

    It is not entirely clear who is being compared to Nazis (Ford? the U.S. Chamber of Commerce? judges attending the conference? the Koch brothers? the conference organizers? Republicans?  Conservatives? the Tea Party?)  but a pretty solid rule is that unless you can show actual physical genocide (the kind with lots of dead bodies) or advocacy for actual genocide the person you are talking about is not a Nazi.

    (And, while some of the people on the list above espouse ideas that would be very bad for the country if put into effect none of them are advocating or have committed genocide.)

  •  They are not opening up concentration camps (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lgmcp, JG in MD, SGA


    But the Kochs and some other right-wing billionaires are engaged in a very well-funded campaign to undermine the democratic system that we believe the US is. Their compatriots have worked long and hard to undo the progress of the 20th century, and have, through their bought and paid for surrogates in legislative bodies, rolled back much of the New Deal.

    They are not Nazis. They can be more accurately described as Fascists, as Benito Mussolini would have described them. Mussolini said that Fascism would be more correctly defined as Corporatism. Benito should know.

  •  Do us a favor: (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    List the judges by name and the Judicial Discipline agency to complain about them to.

    DailyKos, the popular political site whose goal is to elect "more and better Democrats", has silenced yet another wonderful strong Palestinian voice, Palestinian Israeli blogger Simone Daud (formerly known as palestinian professor).

    by stevelaudig on Fri Apr 25, 2014 at 04:29:27 PM PDT

  •  Public sector pensions are INSTEAD of Social Secu- (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JG in MD

    rity in many states and municipalities, so it's not just money they already earned for many of these workers, it's all the retirement they have.

    When Social Security was begun, there was uncertainty about whether the federal government could impose it on state and municipal governments, so they had to "opt in" for their employees to be included.  Many did not, so their workers do not pay in to Social Security and do not collect it. (Under the so-called "windfall elimination" provision even those who worked other jobs under Social Security don't get their full Social Security, but don't get me started on that Ronald Reagan theft).  I believe that Detroit firefighters and police are a case in point.

    The pensions that the right wing is after is money that workers have EARNED.  They were part of the compensation package - "If you work for X years, you WILL get the pension," not, "If you're lucky and we don't want the money for something else, then MAYBE you'll get the pension."    

    This notion of "reform" is just a way to legalize theft from public workers, many of whom did jobs that required them to risk their lives every day.  

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