Be thankful that you live in Arizona. Be thankful that we have, on the whole, good judges that do their job and are not beholden to any special interest and are not relying upon the next election cycle to keep them in office.
I am a trial lawyer. I spend much of my time in court before Arizona judges. Many of the issues that greatly affect my clients are decided upon by trial court judges and appellate court justices. So, while I have had my share of disagreements with the rulings made in our courts (Rule #1: Any judge that disagrees with the position I advocate must have gotten in wrong!) I was recently reminded just how good our judges and justices are.
Having been born and raised in the Detroit area (Go MSU! Go Green!) what happens in the State of Michigan remains of interest to me. In the State of Michigan, the Supreme Court judges are actually elected. Therefore, Michigan has a situation where the highest court in the state – the one that has final say on the interpretation and application of the laws of that state- has justices making decisions knowing they will have to do what is popular (not necessarily correct) to get re-elected. How bad can it be when judges are beholden to corporate or other special interest for reelection? This bad:
Margarette Eby was raped and stabbed to death in Michigan in 1988. Her murder went unsolved until 2002, when DNA tests not even in existence in 1988 were used to determine that Jeffrey Gorton, an employee of a company owned by his parents, entered Eby’s residence to repair an automatic sprinkler system and returned to rape and kill her.
Once the DNA results came back, Eby’s daughter filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Gorton and his parents’ company. In most states in the country, this would not be a problem. Sure, the lawsuit was brought after the statute of limitations (at that time, three years in the State of Michigan) had run, but Michigan had adopted the “discovery rule” since at least 1963, basically saying (as most jurisdictions do) that a party is not penalized where there is no possible way to determine who the defendant was, and it was that very defendant that purposefully concealed his identity.
But, in an unforgivable ruling, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that the family had no right to bring its lawsuit against these defendants. Who does such a ruling benefit, other than the convicted murderer? Obviously, it benefits the insurer of the company where Gorton worked. More importantly, it benefits every insurer and large corporation that does business in Michigan. It basically allows – in fact encourages – potential defendants to hide evidence and keep information from a plaintiff, knowing that if they can hide their identify “just long enough” the claim will expire.
So, Michigan’s Supreme Court has now ruled that a company owned by the parents of this convicted murderer and rapist is free from being sued for money damages by the daughter of the woman he killed. The Michigan court that has justices reliant upon campaign contributions threw out more than 50 years of Michigan law to reach this nonsensical result. The court has ignored common sense. That same court has undoubtedly also excited its “political base” and greatly increased campaign contributions in 2008. What is the problem with that? Judges are not supposed to have a “political base.”
This ruling is a shame for the State of Michigan and all of its citizens. But, equally, it is a reminder that no matter how many mistakes our courts make, no matter how many times we may all wish Arizona courts came to a different ruling, we are lucky that our Courts will apply the law the way it has been applied in the past: not placing corporate interests and murderers above common sense and justice.