Judge’s impartiality questioned in $322 million Mississippi jury verdict

by Walter Olson on May 19, 2011

“In a motion filed Tuesday, attorneys for Union Carbide said Circuit Judge Eddie H. Bowen neglected to notify defense lawyers that his parents had been involved in similar asbestos litigation and had settled a case against Union Carbide.” A rural Mississippi jury earlier this month returned the largest asbestos verdict in American history, $322 million, against Union Carbide and other defendants. [AP/Stamford Advocate; Jackson Clarion-Ledger] More problems with verdict: Point of Law.

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1 Ron Miller 05.19.11 at 12:21 pm

Does a judge tell the parties in a criminal case he used to be a prosecutor? Or that his dad was a police officer? Or that his mother was a defendant in an auto accident case?

I would not be surprised it the judge’s experience did not color his view of the case. But if a judge had to disclose every life experience, it would be just a list of lifelong potential positional conflicts in every case.

2 steve mansfield 05.19.11 at 12:33 pm

As a former judge I am appalled that the judge in this case did not disclose pretrial a blatantly obvious appearance of bias.

3 Bill Poser 05.19.11 at 2:46 pm

Ron, a more accurate analogy in a criminal case would be the judge failing to disclose that his parents had been the victims when the defendant had been convicted of the same crime.

4 CarLitGuy 05.19.11 at 3:59 pm

Perhaps you would also not object, Ron, if the judge was found to be holding a substantial amount of stock in the defendant’s corporation?

Hopefully, most judges are both fair and impartial, but the appearance of impropriety is to be avoided as well, so as to prevent further erosion of confidence in our judiciary. I’m curious as to how you might have commented in the Massey Energy/Blankenship scandal involving the WV Supreme Court Justices.

5 nevins 05.19.11 at 6:35 pm

“I would not be surprised it the judge’s experience did not color his view of the case. But if a judge had to disclose every life experience, it would be just a list of lifelong potential positional conflicts in every case.”

Ron; you personally think the judge could be influenced by his family’s experience with the same defendant. The judge is a likely heir of the settlement and have some feelings about the adequacy. Yet you lump this as just some random life experience like a bad haircut that need not be disclosed or considered relevant?
Since everyone on the jury would have to disclose the same, why not the judge?

6 VMS 05.20.11 at 1:20 am

Was the jury improperly instructed? Were the evidentiary rulings made during trial obviously colored by this alleged impartiality? Did the judge make any inappropriate statements in front of the jury that would have affected the verdict? If no, then no problem.

7 William Nuesslein 05.22.11 at 9:07 am

The $322 million is ridiculous PERIOD.

8 antiredistributionist 05.24.11 at 1:14 pm

VMS – Judicial disclosure, recusal and disqualification do not work on a retrospective “no harm, no foul” basis.

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