Proponents of merit selection of judges often argue against the popular election of judges by pointing out how campaign expenditures can compromise judicial impartiality, or at least the appearance of impartiality. Indeed, the definitive U.S. Supreme Court case, Caperton v. Massey, held that a West Virginia justice's failure to recuse himself from a case in which he received substantial campaign donations from one of the parties violated the other party's Due Process rights. An ongoing controversy in Indiana, however, illustrates that big recusal fights can arise in appointive systems, too.The case, Indiana Gas Company, et. al. v. Ind. Regulatory Commission, concerns a 30-year contract between a coal gasification plant owner and the state requiring the state to buy gas at a set price rather than market rates. Opponents say the deal will increase utility bills by as much as $1 billion over the first eight years; supporters says ratepayers will save money in the long run. The Indiana Court of Appeals struck 37 words from the original contract, holding that the way the contract treats some industrial gas users conflicts with state law.
Last year, outgoing Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels appointed his chief counsel, Mark Massa, to the Indiana Supreme Court. When the case came before the Court this year, the Sierra Club and other opponents of the gasification plant filed a motion for disqualification, citing Massa’s "long and close" relationship with the project director for the proposed coal gasification plant and his work as Gov. Mitch Daniels’ general counsel when the governor pushed enabling legislation for the project. Last week, Justice Massa denied the motion to disqualify. In response, the Indianapolis Star has published "Of course, Mark Massa should have recused himself."
HT: Indiana Law Blog