Monday, November 19, 2007

Dishonesty and the ExxonMobil Ruling

The Birmingham News' capacity for intellectual dishonesty and laziness never ceases to amaze. In fact, it's almost amusing at times.

But it is not funny when the News regularly attempts to blow smoke up the collective rear end of its readers on matters of vital importance.

Take, for example, the small matter of the integrity of our state courts. Editor Tom Scarritt weighs in on this subject in his sleep-inducing Sunday column.

You can always size up a Scarritt column as a waste of space. But his most recent effort goes beyond that, to the realm of being dangerous--at least for anyone out there who might actually take him seriously.

The column is titled "Judges should seek office on own merits." Scarritt notes Alabama's No. 1 position in the country on spending for judicial races, and he seems to share the concerns of retired U.S. Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor that such heavy fund-raising gives the impression that justice is for sale.

Scarritt then notes the Alabama Supreme Court's recent decision to override a $3.6 billion verdict against ExxonMobil and in favor of the state of Alabama in a case involving natural-gas royalties. He says that decision adds to the perception that justice is for sale.

So far, so good with the column. It actually is coherent and makes a valid point--a rarity for Scarritt. But then he veers off into that strange land we might call "Right Wing World," where truth and intellectual rigor account for nothing.

Of the ExxonMobil ruling, Scarritt writes: "The court's decision that the big oil company's actions did not constitute fraud against the state may have been a correct reading of the law."

This is both dishonest and lazy. The decision has been issued for more than two weeks. It is readily available. And yes, it's lengthy. But Scarritt is the editor of the largest newspaper in the state, so you would think he might take the time to read it before pontificating about it. Obviously, he has not read it, which is lazy. And to imply that the ruling was legally correct, even though we citizens might not like it, is dishonest. The ruling was not legally correct, and we will lay that out in the weeks ahead here at Legal Schnauzer.

Then Scarritt steps in more doo-doo. "The fact eight justices who were supported by money from the business community voted for that decision, and the lone dissent came from the justice supported by trial lawyer money, made it appear justice has a price tag."

That's a slick way of providing cover for Scarritt's eight Republican brethren on the Supreme Court. He tars Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb, the only Democrat on the court and its lone dissenting voice on the ExxonMobil ruling, with the same sleazy brush that could be used (deservedly) on the court's Republicans. "Hey," Scarritt seems to be saying, "the Republicans might be in the pocket of corporations, but Cobb's in the pocket of trial lawyers."

Only one problem with that line of thinking. There is nothing from the ExxonMobil ruling that would remotely suggest Cobb based her dissent on her support from trial lawyers. For one thing, Scarritt would have you believe that "trial lawyers" (one of the great bogeymen of the right wing) were a party to the case, just as a large corporation (ExxonMobil) was a party to the case. But trial lawyers were not a party. The party opposite ExxonMobil was the state of Alabama, and the people of Alabama were the big loser's in the court's reversal--not trial lawyers.

If you actually read the case--which I have--you see that Cobb's dissent is based on a correct reading of the facts and the law in the case. And you see that the Republican majority ignored the evidence and the proper standard of review in the case.

Hmmm, wonder why they did that? Could it be that they were doing the bidding of the corporate sponsors who put them in power? Yes, it could. But Tom Scarritt doesn't want you to know that, so he implies that Sue Bell Cobb is just as corrupt as her Republican brethren.

There's one problem with Scarritt's little game of peek-a-boo. The ExxonMobil ruling is not an anomaly. The Alabama Supreme Court--and the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals, for that matter--has played fast and loose with the law before, favoring certain parties and willfully cheating other parties. All for political reasons.

They did it in the Legal Schnauzer case, the case that is at the heart of this blog. And we will show you how they did it, and who benefited from it.

That's something you definitely won't be reading in Tom Scarritt's rag.

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