In this light, consider the look at the Texas state courts Tom DeLay's case provides. The NYT reports:
One of only seven states to elect all of its judges on partisan tickets, Texas, some critics say, all but invented the million-dollar judgeship.If you don't like DeLay and are tempted to laugh to see someone you loathe getting a harsh deal, remember that concerns about the inferiority of state courts usually arise in a context where the person getting the brunt of the problem is even more unsavory than a member of Congress.
With prosecution and defense objecting to a string of judges, the DeLay case has produced a conundrum: can a partisan Republican defendant appear to get a fair trial from a partisan Democratic judge, as revealed by the political contributions the judge made? Traditionally, the focus has been on the money the judges received.
"Judges in Texas swing the gavel with one hand and take money with the other," said Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, a nonpartisan group that tracks the influence of money and corporate power in the state.
Mr. McDonald called the campaign gifts to the judges legal yet highly suspect, and traced the ballooning costs of judicial races to the assault on Democratic power in Texas by the presidential adviser Karl Rove.
Thomas R. Phillips, chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court from 1988 to 2004 and an opponent of partisan judicial elections, linked the trend to events long before Mr. Rove's efforts. "We were probably the first state in the nation to make judicial races as expensive as hotly contested regular political campaigns," he said.
In the prosecution of Mr. DeLay, the powerful Texas Republican and former House majority leader who faces charges involving illegal corporate campaign donations, the question of judicial impartiality was answered in the negative. The judge, Bob Perkins, who was shown to have made about 30 contributions totaling $5,255 to Democratic candidates and causes since 2001, was replaced at a hearing in Austin last Tuesday, setting off a round of judicial hot potato.
The next to be handed the case, the district administrative judge, B. B. Schraub, a Republican, recused himself after a Democratic challenge. The case then went to the chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court, Wallace B. Jefferson, a Republican and perhaps the most partisan of all, who quickly handed off the case to an appointee, where it remains apparently for good.
The last man standing was Pat Priest, a 65-year-old semiretired judge from San Antonio. He is a Democrat, and he acknowledged making campaign contributions himself, but only of $150 each to three candidates for the Texas House last year.
"That's it, I'm a tightwad," Judge Priest said in an interview....
The complaints against the Texas judicial system have a long history. In 1987, "60 Minutes," in a program called "Justice for Sale," showed Texas Supreme Court justices taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from lawyers appearing before them. Eleven years later, "60 Minutes" found that little had changed.
In 1998, Texas for Public Justice issued its own report, finding that the seven Texas Supreme Court justices elected since 1994 had raised $9.2 million, of which 40 percent came from interests with cases before the court. A survey taken for the court itself, the group said, found that nearly half of the judges themselves thought that campaign contributions significantly affected their decisions.