February 6, 2008
Christine Bremer Muggi
Millions of people throughout the world have been captivated by John Grisham's fictional legal thrillers. But his most recent book, "The Appeal," is all too real.
The story revolves around a big chemical company that has been polluting the water supply, causing cancer in the area. They are sued, lose and appeal the case to the state Supreme Court. In an attempt to win the appeal, the big chemical company recruits a candidate, finances him, manipulates him, markets him, and molds him into its Supreme Court justice.
Sound familiar? It should. While fiction, Grisham's story is happening in Wisconsin today. Big businesses, led by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, are trying to eliminate "unfriendly" justices on the Wisconsin Supreme Court and replace them with more "sympathetic" ones.
Last year, the group is rumored to have spent over $3 million to elect a candidate to its liking. This year it will likely spend even more in an effort to unseat Justice Louis Butler.
Why? Because WMC wants the views of big businesses to prevail over those of the consumer when cases go to the Wisconsin Supreme Court -- and it is trying to buy a seat on the court to make it happen. WMC wants to weaken even the most basic legal protections, stacking the deck against Wisconsinites like you and me in the name of higher profits.
Any person injured by the misconduct or negligence of others should be able to seek justice, even when taking on the most powerful interests. When big corporations act irresponsibly and cause harm to consumers, refuse to pay fair and just insurance claims, produce unsafe products, or swindle their employees and shareholders, the only way for people to hold them accountable is in our courts.
WMC knows it, and that's why it is doing whatever it takes to dominate the democratic process and buy the high court.
Our courts need to be fair, impartial and independent. Cases should be judged on the facts and on the law. Big businesses have a right to participate in the process, but it should not be allowed to dominate it. The Constitution was not written for big business, it was written for "the people."
So this spring when you see TV ad after TV ad after TV ad from WMC, think of who it is looking out for and why it is spending millions of dollars for a Supreme Court candidate.
Christine Bremer Muggli is the president of the Wisconsin Association for Justice (formerly the Wisconsin Academy of Trial Lawyers), the state's largest voluntary organization defending the civil justice system.