A reader writes to tell me that the unfortunate decision in Whirlpool, Inc. v Camacho was marred by the fact that the winning law firm had given $67,500 to three members of the Texas Supreme Court. I previously wrote about this case earlier. Among the many things wrong with that decision is that the Texas Supreme Court overturned a jury decision based on lack of evidence. Jury decisions are supposed to be accorded great deference. The court’s decision over-analyzes and parses the evidence almost as if it was trying to reach a certain result. The court went to great lengths to justify its decision.
As the reader points out, it simply looks bad that the winning defense firm contributed over $50,000 to three of the justices who decided the case. Judges are supposed to avoid even the appearance of impropriety. Yet, we in Texas and other states tolerate campaign contributions which stain our courts with the appearance of impropriety. The defense firm, Haynes & Boone, contributed $67,500 to three Texas Supreme Court justices according to Texans for Public Justice. This appears to be news to my reader. But, it is not news to those of us who practice in Texas courts on a regular basis.
Many law firms contribute tens of thousands of dollars to Texas Supreme Court candidates. Yet, it is very rare for a judge to recuse him/herself due to these contributions. Judges would certainly recuse themselves if they had stock in one of the parties, or some other financial interest in one of the parties. But, for some reason, we have never viewed campaign contribution as a financial interest. Surely, tens of thousands of dollars constitutes a financial interest which presents the appearance of impropriety.