Party raises questions about Supreme Court

Published 5:00 am Monday, June 24, 2002

When a business and its customers or clients gather together fora social event, it is well understood the purpose is to thank thecustomers for their patronage and to cement relationships forfuture business. There is nothing ethically wrong with the concept.It is part of every business relationship.

However, when trial lawyers and judges gather together tosocialize and cement relationships — especially Supreme CourtJustices — then all sorts of ethical question arise. That’sbecause it’s law, not relationships, that determines judicialdecisions.

Such a social function was held on June 7 in Biloxi. It washosted by Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz and his ex-wife. Inattendance were members of the trial lawyer community — thelawyers who have made millions running those ads you see on TV andin newspapers seeking clients for possible big-money lawsuits. Alsoin attendance with Justice Diaz was another member of the state’shighest court, Justice Chuck McRae. They are two of the individualswho oversee those trials and make the final decisions on themulti-million dollar damages.

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Questions especially arise when the state is going through alitigation crisis that is crippling our medical system and ourbusiness community. And at a time when extreme pressure is beingapplied to the legislature to correct the problem, even morequestions should be asked.

The practice of law is a very ethical business, or at least itis supposed to be. The very foundation of our social andgovernmental system is predicated on the trust the public must havein the impartiality of our judicial system. When the public losesthat trust then our system begins to crumble.

What is terribly interesting is the reaction of the host of theevent when questioned about the party by a newspaper reporter.Three times the story changed. First it was a private personalparty, then it was a paid event, then it was a party for friendsand colleagues!

If the party was an innocent event, then why the stumbling toget the story straight?

Like everyone else, lawyers and judges have a right to let theirhair down and socialize, but it strikes as a bit of arrogance thatthose who are at the heart of the litigation crisis would openlygather and ignore the impropriety of the situation.

Our judicial system is supposed to sit at a higher standard, andour Supreme Court should be above reproach. The events of June 7show that maybe it is not, and a serious situation may indeedexist.