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Monday, January 30, 2006

Courts - Political Spotlight Shines on Judicial Ethics

"Political Spotlight Shines on Judicial Ethics" is the headline to a column by Legal Times' writer Tony Mauro. The lengthy article begins:

Disputes over conflicts of interest. Reports of a junket to a Colorado resort. The prospect of ever more partisan and expensive elections. Last week was quite a week in the life of the judiciary.
The article looks at several different issues, including this one:
On another front in the judicial ethics battle, the Supreme Court let stand an 8th Circuit appeals court ruling that invalidated judicial canons in Minnesota that bar judicial candidates from declaring their party affiliations and individually soliciting campaign funds. The Court was expected to take up the case, and by not doing so, critics say it will hasten the day when judicial elections are indistinguishable from other rancorous, costly campaigns.

"I feel like we are going back to the 19th century, where judges were an active part of the political arena, except judges have a lot more power now," says former Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Phillips, now a partner in the Austin office of Baker Botts. Phillips was referring to the Court's action denying review in the Minnesota case, in which he represented the Minnesota Board on Judicial Standards in its effort to resurrect the ethics rules.

"It means a judicial candidate can go up and say to someone, 'I'm dead set against abortion, I'm a loyal Republican, can you write me a check?'" says Northwestern University School of Law Professor Steven Lubet. "We're involved in a race to the bottom in state judicial elections. It's a phenomenal mess."

The disarray on several ethics fronts is already having an effect. An American Bar Association commission tasked with revising its influential model code of judicial conduct may have to pull back its proposed Canon 5, which would bar exactly the kind of judicial politicking the 8th Circuit ruling now permits. A hearing on the proposals is set for the ABA's meeting in Chicago on Feb. 11.

"I don't have a high degree of confidence that we are proposing a code that is constitutional," says Jan Baran, a partner in D.C.'s Wiley Rein & Fielding and a member of the commission.

The denial of review in Dimick vs. Republican Party of Minnesota is discussed in this ILB entry from Jan. 24th.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on January 30, 2006 08:49 AM
Posted to Indiana Courts