Thursday, November 8, 2007

Here's What's Shoddy

The Birmingham News has written an editorial about the ExxonMobil ruling that might be the most egregious waste of space I've ever seen.

In an editorial titled "Shoddy, not fraud-y," the News more or less defends the Alabama Supreme Court's indefensible ruling to throw out $3.5 billion in punitive damages a trial court had found Exxon owed the state of Alabama.

Perhaps the most disturbing part of the News' piece is that the writer gives no indication he or she has read the Supreme Court's ruling. Yes, the opinion is long--125 pages--but these are full-time editorial writers at the News. What else are they busy doing--looking for more ways to prop up Rob Riley?

You would think they could go to the trouble to read the ruling before opining about it.

The News' concludes that while Exxon might have been guilty of shoddy business practices, that does not constitute fraud.

But that's not what the opinion says at all. In fact, the opinion makes it clear that there was nothing "shoddy" about Exxon's actions at all. Shoddy indicates that Exxon's actions were sloppy, perhaps reckless. But even the eight judges who agreed on the majority view never said the company's actions were sloppy. In fact, the record clearly shows the company's actions were intentional, and the justices note that the company took an "aggressive" interpretation of the contract with our state. "Aggressively fraudulent" might have been a better term, but there certainly was nothing shoddy about it.

The gist of the court's finding is this: Because the state intended to audit the transaction all along, it therefore did not "rely" on alleged misrepresentations by Exxon. That, according to the GOP justices, was the missing prong in the state's fraud claim. Never mind that the court's ruling, as dissenting Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb points out, differs from settled law in 49 other states, and at the federal level.

The News does say, correctly, that the case feeds the perception that justice is for sale in Alabama. But if the editorial writer had actually read the opinion, he or she would have seen that this case does more than feed a perception that justice is for sale in our state. It proves that justice is for sale.

A solution? The News proposes a merit-based appointment system for appeals-court judges, which would be an improvement over what we have. (By the way, such a system also should apply to trial-court judges; that's where the corruption problem starts.) But the paper really wants to take a lazy way out.

A far better solution? To have real news organizations in this state who would take hard, objective looks at the corruption that is rampant in our state courts. A good place to start? Shelby County. But wait, that's a Republican hotbed. Mustn't go there.

Of course we're talking about reporting that would take honest and real work on the part of the News. Why do that when you can sit in your right-wing ivory tower and lazily bat out worthless editorials?

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