Nation


Buying Your Honor
Money Tips the Scales of Justice

It's safe to say most people have few illusions about the sanctity of the judicial system, where the rich at least get a shot at buying justice. But even in this already corrupt setting, it's becoming more and more costly to get a good deal—especially if your judge is running for state office. A recent Frontline documentary on PBS exposed just how money works in campaigns for state judgeships, in which judges, like any other politician, employ pollsters and seek campaign funds. The thing is, these judges may be deciding cases argued by their biggest contributors—lawyers representing well-to-do corporate clients. "The problem is once you get into this campaign business and begin to have a lot of money, then the person on the bench begins to think, 'What's going to happen if I decide the case this way or that way?' " Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer told Frontline. Campaign spending for a judgeship has dramatically increased over recent years. Two candidates for the Pennsylvania state supreme court raised just over $523,000 in 1987; by 1995, two candidates raised almost $2.8 million.

For a corporation facing untold millions in environmental cleanup costs or trying to skirt other inhibiting regulations, buying a judge can be a quick and, compared with years of legal expenses, relatively cheap way to fix the problem. Frontline recounts a case in Louisiana, where last year a business group financed a campaign against Pascal Calogero Jr., the chief justice of the state supreme court, whom they viewed as unsympathetic to their industry's concerns. But when Calogero backed down on environmental regulations and supported curbing a law clinic that had successfully represented poor people in cases against oil and gas companies, he was able to secure enough of the business donors to win another term.

It certainly is ironic that following the Frontline documentary and its interviews with two sitting Supreme Court judges, the vaunted federal judiciary took a step backward to make it appear that even this superior—not to mention well-paid—group of federal judges has something to hide. In a decision issued December 14, the Committee of Financial Disclosure of the Judicial Conference refused to provide copies of all 1600 federal judges' 1998 financial disclosures to APBnews.com . The committee's decision appears to make it illegal to post judges' financial disclosure statements—which are public documents—on the Internet.

 


Wild Kingdom
Love Knows No Boundaries

Mark Mathews of Carl Junction, Missouri, gave British TV viewers a shock when he led his wife, Pixel, out to his trailer and made passionate love to her. "She's gorgeous," Mathews said. "She's sweet. She's loving. I'm very proud of her. . . . Deep down, way down, I'd love to have children with her." Trouble is, Pixel is a horse. Missouri is one of 26 states that do not ban humans from having sex with animals. "There's a very big underground community here," says Sheila Rilenge of the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation, a not-for- profit group in St. Louis pushing to see laws passed during the next legislative session that would, at the very least, make intercourse with animals a misdemeanor.


Genetic Engineering

All fired up by genetic experiments, human beings this millennium season are reaching out to see what makes the rest of the animal kingdom tick. In Albany, SUNY Ph.D. student Erik Sprague, 27, wants to find out more about life as a reptile. He has had his teeth sharpened, bumps implanted into his forehead, and green scales or swirls tattooed across his face and body to make himself look more like a lizard or snake. "I like reptiles, especially sea crocodiles, although many of them don't make great house pets," Sprague told Reuters. Sprague's previous attempts to determine the meaning of life have consisted of swinging bar stools from his ears and picking up car batteries with chains attached to his nipples.

Additional Reporting: Kate Cortesi

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