According to former Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna, the state Supreme Court plagiarized its majority opinion last year when it struck down voter-approved public charter schools as unconstitutional. Apparently, about 30% of the opinion was lifted from the plaintiff’s (which included the Washington Education Association) brief without any citations.
McKenna told KIRO Radio’s David Ross that most people did not notice the plagiarism because “the brief was filed about 18 months before the opinion came out.” However, when he “went back and did a word comparison, sure enough, he found there were chunks of copy that were very close or exactly the same.”
There’s no arguing that it is plagiarism. But, the brief doesn’t have a copyright so the justices’ actions are legal. Of course, that doesn’t make them ethical.
Comparing the situation to the U.S. Supreme Court, McKenna said that we “would fall over in a faint if we found sentences, paragraphs, even pages copied and pasted. And, of course, that never happens.” In the end, the plagiarism “doesn’t look good for the state supreme court… It makes them look lazy and somewhat captive of one side or the other.”
The plagiarism only heightens concerns over certain justices’ close financial relationships with special interests, specifically the WEA. As Shift reported, the WEA gave maximum campaign contributions to seven justices seeking re-election prior to the court’s decision. The WEA went so far as to pump $50,000 via PAC donations into one justice’s race.
This legislative session, the Senate Majority Coalition introduced a bill that sought to discipline any judge who fails to disqualify himself/herself from any case in which his/her impartiality might be reasonably questioned. That includes potential bias as a result of having accepted contributions of $50 from a party or lawyer involved in case.
Similar laws have been adopted by several states. Via Gavel to Gavel:
- Alabama: Sliding scale. There is a “rebuttable presumption” in favor of recusal if the party or attorney gave 10% (appellate), 15% (general jurisdiction trial), or 25% (limited jurisdiction trial) of the judge’s total campaign receipts.
- Arizona: Must disqualify for contributions over $5,000.
- California: Must disqualify for contributions over $1,500 (trial) or $5,000 (appellate).
- Mississippi: May be forced to disqualify if “major donor” defined as more than $2,000 (appellate) or $1,000 (trial).
- New York: For trial court judges, case may not be assigned to a judge if he/she received $2,500 (individual attorney or party) or $3,500 (attorney and co-counsel, special council, law firm or firms, or clients).
- Utah: Must disqualify for contributions over $50.
The bill was re-introduced in the state Senate during the special session. Of course, Democrats oppose the bill as it seeks to limit the Left’s (specifically that of their special interest campaign donors) influence on the court.
Seems that, if a charter school student was caught plagiarizing a paper like this, it could get them expelled. But for Supreme Court justices, it could just mean more campaign contributions.