Some judges routinely rule in cases involving friends, former clients and business associates -- and in favor of lawyers who fill their campaign coffers.
LAS VEGAS — When Judge Gene T. Porter last ran for reelection, a group of Las Vegas lawyers sponsored a fundraiser for him at Big Bear in California. Even by Las Vegas standards, it was brazen. Some of the sponsors had cases before him. One case was set for a crucial hearing in four days.
"A Lavish Buffet Dinner will be catered By Big Bear's Premier Restaurant," invitations to Porter's fundraiser said. "There will be Food, Fun, Libations … a 7:30 p.m. Sunset Cruise on the Big Bear Queen … a Zoo Tour for the Little Ones." Porter, 49, a Nevada state judge, attended. The evening blossomed into a festival of champagne, lobster and money. Organizers said guests contributed nearly $30,000, dropping much of it into a crystal punch bowl.
Some lawyers considered it protection against ill fortune. Robert D. Vannah, a sponsor of the fundraiser whose firm had the hearing scheduled in Porter's courtroom in four days, would later explain his donation this way: "Giving money to a judge's campaign means you're less likely to get screwed…. A $1,000 contribution isn't going to buy special treatment. It's just a hedge against bad things happening."