Kentucky Judicial Campaign Conduct Committee cautions judicial candidates about soliciting and accepting contributions

 August 14, 2010

 In a Kentucky case decided July 13, 2010, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held that judicial candidates have First Amendment rights to personally solicit campaign funds and to announce their party affiliation and receive political party endorsements. The appellate court sent the case of Carey v. Wolnitzek back to U.S. District Judge Karen Caldwell to determine the meaning of the word “issue” in the Kentucky Supreme Court rule that prohibits judicial candidates from saying how they will rule on “issues.”

 The Kentucky Judicial Campaign Conduct Committee, a non-profit, non-partisan and non-governmental body, is concerned that the ruling on contributions may undermine the integrity of judicial elections and thus damage public regard for the judiciary. While candidates have a First Amendment right to personally solicit campaign funds, they should recognize the coercion inherent in a judge personally asking lawyers who practice before the judge to give money to the judge’s election campaign.

 All judicial candidates should recognize the appearance of favoritism created by acceptance of substantial funds from a litigant or attorney with business before the court. We believe the better practice is to follow the procedure that has been in place for many years in Kentucky; that is to use a committee to raise campaign funds. We also believe that in order for voters to be fully aware of who is supporting candidates, the General Assembly should require immediate or near-immediate reporting of large contributions between the day that books close for the last pre-election campaign-finance report and the day of the election. Now, contributions during that approximate two-week period are unknown until after the election.

 The Committee also believes that judicial candidates should refrain from making statements about issues that might come before them. Judicial races are not like races for the executive or legislative branches. In those branches of government, candidates routinely promise the voters that they will, if elected, vote a certain way on issues. In judicial races, on the other hand, candidates should only promise to fairly interpret and apply the law and the U.S. and Kentucky constitutions, to treat all litigants fairly and with dignity, and to approach every case with an open mind and without pre-judgment. A judicial candidate who speaks out on issues should remind voters of these obligations, and a candidate who appears to promise how he or she will decide an issue has an obligation to let another judge handle the case if the issue arises in the judge’s court.

 Kentucky Judicial Campaign Conduct Committee Inc.

Released Aug. 12, 2010

Contact: Spencer Noe, chairman, 859-422-7509; Al Cross, secretary, 502-682-2848

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