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Law School Apologizes to Supreme Court

by Susan Finch, The Times-Picayune

Tuesday September 16, 2008, 5:59 PM

By Susan Finch

Tulane Law School's dean has apologized to the Louisiana Supreme Court for what he called "numerous errors" underlying a recent Tulane Law Review article about a study that showed a high correlation between lawyer and litigant campaign contributions to justices and decisions favoring the donors.

"Because of the miscalculation in the underlying data, the reliability of some or all of the authors' conclusions in the study as published has been called into question," dean Lawrence Ponoroff said in a Sept. 10 letter to the court.

The article by Tulane comparative-law professor Vernon Palmer and Loyola University economics teacher John Levendis was based on their statistical analysis of how each of the high court's seven members voted between 1992 to 2006 on 181 cases involving their campaign donors.

The study found that campaign contributors before the court enjoyed a favored status.

The Supreme Court and its defenders blasted the study, claiming the professors' reliance on incorrect information and outdated metholodology rendered its conclusions invalid.

But in a Tuesday interview, speaking for himself and not Tulane, Palmer blamed himself for the errors, including those he found himself and those pointed out by the Supreme Court.

Yet with all the mistakes now corrected, he said, the study's conclusions, broadly speaking, are the same.

Palmer said the corrected study data will be verified by an independent researcher and the revised study will probably be "republished" in a law review. He wasn't sure which one it would be.

Ponoroff's letter to the Supreme Court said that in light of a critique by two local lawyers of the Palmer-Levendis study, criticism the court put on its Web site, the professors "advised the Tulane Law Review that there were numerous errors in the recording of the data that formed the basis of their study."

"Although the authors contend that there is no consistent pattern insofar as these errors are concerned," a notice about the errors will be posted on the law review's Web site, and the same notice will go out with hard copies of the law review's next edition, Ponoroff told the court.

The letter also said that the law review's student editors could not have reasonably been expected to be aware of the errors and that Tulane officials "remain disappointed that the authors did not discover them until after the publication."

In the letter Ponoroff renewed the law school's offer to the court to serve as a public forum "for further discussions of the issues of judicial independence and the impact of campaign contributions and judicial elections on the court system in Louisiana and elsewhere."