ALLEGATIONS OF JUDICIAL CAMPAIGN RULE VIOLATIONS FLY IN NORTHERN KENTUCKY

KENTUCKY LEGAL NEWS
WWW.LAWREADER.COM (502) 732-4617 – 314 7th. St., – Carrollton, Ky. 41008

By Stan Billingsley Senior Editor of LawReader.com May 16, 2014

Kentucky judicial candidates have an unusual large number of challengers opposing incumbent judges. A number of these inexperienced challengers are apparently violating the Judicial Canons of Ethics by several means. Some of the most egregious violations of judicial campaign rules are being found in Northern Kentucky.

Allegations are flying that some candidates are contributing to the Republican Party in order to be “given the microphone” at Meet the Candidate rallies. Judicial candidates run in non-partisan races, and are to avoid claiming an affiliation with a political party. Judges are required to be fair and impartial, and a demonstration of partisanship to raise campaign funds or seek votes is improper. The Commentary to Canon (5) states that : “A judge must not be a speaker or guest of honor at an organization’s fund-raising event, but mere attendance at such an event is permissible if otherwise consistent with this Code.” Contributing to a political party in order to be able to speak to them, is a contribution nevertheless and violates the Judicial Code of Ethics.

We note that Judicial Canon 5. 1 (c) forbids the contribution of a judicial candidate to a political race. Such a donation violates Canon 5.
CANON 5: A JUDGE OR JUDICIAL CANDIDATE SHALL REFRAIN FROM INAPPROPRIATE POLITICAL ACTIVITY
A. Political Conduct in General.
(1) A judge or a candidate for election to judicial office shall not:
(a) act as a leader or hold any office in a political organization;
(b) make speeches for or against a political organization or candidate or publicly endorse or oppose a candidate for public office;
(c) solicit funds for or pay an assessment or make a contribution to a political organization or candidate, except as authorized in subsection A(2);

Another violation involves the advertising of a judicial candidates political affiliation.
the Judicial Code of Ethics states that:

“ A judge or candidate shall not identify himself or herself as a member of a political party in any form of advertising, or when speaking to a gathering. If not initiated by the judge or candidate for such office, and only in answer to a direct question, the judge or candidate may identify himself or herself as a member of a particular political party.”

In the Northern Kentucky race a challenger is advertising that he “is a Democrat and two of his opponents are Republicans”. That claim violates the Judicial Canons. He is not permitted to identify himself as a member of a political party unless he is asked a direct question…but this rule prohibits a judicial candidate from advertising his party affiliation otherwise. Further his claim of his opponent’s party membership is a violation of the Canons.

CANON 4: A JUDGE SHALL SO CONDUCT THE JUDGE’S EXTRA-JUDICIAL ACTIVITIES AS TO MINIMIZE THE RISK OF CONFLICT WITH JUDICIAL OBLIGATIONS
(2) A judge or a candidate for election to judicial office may purchase tickets to political gatherings for the judge or candidate and one guest, may attend political gatherings and may speak to such gatherings on the judge’s or candidate’s own behalf. A judge or candidate shall not identify himself or herself as a member of a political party in any form of advertising, or when speaking to a gathering. If not initiated by the judge or candidate for such office, and only in answer to a direct question, the judge or candidate may identify himself or herself as a member of a particular political party.

A third violation concerns a violation of Canon (5) of the Code of Judicial Ethics. This is the claim by a growing number of judicial candidates that they are members of the National Rifle Association. At least one judicial candidate advertises that he is members of the NRA and supports the 2nd. Amendment…. Other candidates are merely advertising that they are “NRA” members.
This is code for opposing any legislation attempting to regulate guns. This identification of a judicial candidate as a member of an organization which actively litigates 2nd. Amendment issues suggests that the judges bias in favor of the NRA if such a case comes before his court.
Canon 5 forbids a judicial candidate from “appeal(ing) to public social bias in order to gain a
political advantage.”

Wikipedia reports:
“In the late 1970s, the NRA shifted his focus to incorporate political advocacy, and started seeing their members as political resources rather than just as recipients of goods and services, and despite the impact on the volatility of membership, the politicization of the NRA has been consistent and the NRA-Political Victory Fund ranked as “one of the biggest spenders in congressional elections” as of 1998.”

“The organization expanded its membership by focusing heavily on political issues and forming coalitions with conservative politicians, most of them Republicans.”
The NRA opposes the limitation on ownership of assault weapons, and opposes back ground checks on felons and insane persons before they can be sold a gun.
When a judicial candidate advertises their membership in the NRA, they are encouraging the public to believe they are biased against any law regulating the ownership of guns, even assault weapons being sold to felons.

We would submit that this affiliation with the NRA is an “appeal to public social bias in order to gain a political advantage”, and this violates the commentary of the Judicial Code of Ethics, and brings into question the candidates ability to be independent and fair to all parties coming before his court..
We would suggest that there is an unusually large number of inexperienced lawyers running for judicial offices. One source told LawReader that the large number of judicial challengers is the result of an active program of the Tea Party who wish to place their members on the bench.
Every lawyer has the right to run for a judicial office if they have met the qualifications (as having been licensed for two years to run of District Court and eight years to run for the Circuit Court or the appellate courts.) But their blatant ignorance or indifference to the Canons of Judicial Ethics should be a warning sign that these candidates are not informed on the law, or worse, that they are willing to ignore the ethics rules if it gets them elected.

The Judicial Conduct Commission investigates and can sanction violations of the Judicial Code of Ethics.
Anyone having knowledge of a violation of the Judicial Ethics rules may report them to the Judicial Conduct Commission at:
P.O. Box 4266
Frankfort, KY 40604
Phone: 502-564-1231
Fax: 502-564-1233
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• The author discloses that he is a gun owner, was a judge for 25 years, and is a former alternate member of the Judicial Retirement and Removal Commission (now called the Judicial Conduct Commission. He is retired from the judiciary and is not a candidate for any political or judicial office.)

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