When a judge’s relative supports a political candidate

Members of a judge’s family may support a candidate for elective public office publicly and actively — but independently from the judge.  For example, judicial family members may:

  • Circulate nominating petitions on behalf of a political candidate
  • Publicly endorse a candidate
  • Serve as a campaign manager or on a campaign committee
  • Volunteer for a campaign or work as a paid employee
  • Campaign door-to-door and hand out campaign materials
  • Solicit funds or host a fund-raiser for a candidate

The judge has the responsibility of ensuring that, when a family member is involved in a campaign, the judge’s name and title are not used and that involvement cannot reasonably be construed as appearing to signal the judge’s support for the candidate as well.

Members of a judge’s family may contribute to a political candidate, but the judge should not participate in the decision to contribute or use the family member to make a contribution the judge cannot.   Further, several states provide that a judge’s spouse should make financial contributions to a candidate for political office only from the spouse’s separate account and not from a joint account or using a check with the judge’s name on it.

The issues that arise for a judge when a family member is running for office are discussed with numerous citations in the paper Political Activities by Members of a Judge’s Family, which is available to be downloaded on the web-site of the Center for Judicial Ethics.  Below are summaries of advisory opinions and discipline decisions issued since that paper was up-dated in 2010.

  • A judge’s spouse may host a fund-raiser for a judicial candidate if the judge takes steps to ensure the appearance as well as the reality of the spouse’s independence and the judge’s impartiality. Alabama Advisory Opinion 12-914.
  • Based on the recommendation of the Commission on Judicial Conduct and a stipulated resolution, the Arizona Supreme Court censured a former judge for accompanying his niece while she collected nominating petition signatures for a candidate and for speaking at a political meeting. In the Matter of Pearce, 11-245, Order (Arizona Supreme Court November 26, 2012).
  • The spouse of a judge may endorse a political candidate. Arkansas Advisory Opinion 2009-4.
  • A judge’s spouse may make a campaign contribution from a bank account that does not include the judge’s name. A judge’s spouse may serve as a member of a district attorney candidate’s campaign, but the judge should request that the judge’s name and position not be used by the spouse, the candidate, or the campaign committee.  If the candidate supported by the judge’s spouse appears before the judge or is elected district attorney, disqualification may be required if a significant minority of the lay community would believe that the judge could not be fair and impartial.  Pennsylvania Informal Advisory Opinion 1/4/2011.
  • A judge may not accompany the judge’s spouse to a fund-raising event for a candidate to elective office. Pennsylvania Informal Advisory Opinion 8/24/2009.

Last weekWhen a judge’s relative is a political candidate
Next week:  Political activities at a judge’s home

 

One thought on “When a judge’s relative supports a political candidate

  1. Pingback: Family political activities at a judge’s home | Judicial ethics and discipline

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