Back to Top

What is wrong with allowing judges to solicit and accept political contributions from lawyers?

The United States Supreme Court described the ethical problem this way in the recent case of Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar, 135 S.Ct. 1656 (2015):

“The vast majority of elected judges in States that allow personal solicitation serve with fairness and honor. But “[e]ven if judges were able to refrain from favoring donors, the mere possibility that judges' decisions may be motivated by the desire to repay campaign contributions is likely to undermine the public's confidence in the judiciary.” In the eyes of the public, a judge's personal solicitation could result (even unknowingly) in “a possible temptation ... which might lead him not to hold the balance nice, clear and true.” That risk is especially pronounced because most donors are lawyers and litigants who may appear before the judge they are supporting.”

The system we have for electing judges in Texas presents a conflict of interest that we would never tolerate in other areas.  To think about this issue in a different context, imagine you are about to compete in a sports competition. You have spent countless hours training and preparing for the contest.You have hired a private coach to train you and get you ready for competition. The League that oversees your sport has official rules so all competitors know what conduct will be considered an infraction and what the penalty could be. A referee is assigned to referee your match and to impose the required penalties for infractions. 

To be a referee in this League, a person must first have special training and pass a test to demonstrate knowledge of the rules. Then, the members of a referee committee review the applications and resumes of all the referee candidates and vote to select the ones who will be commissioned as official referees. It is a very competitive process, and referee candidates commonly send committee members professionally prepared resumes and brochures to demonstrate their credentials. Some even send highlight videos to show how they have performed in the past and to explain their commitment to the sport and other qualities they think will appeal to the voters. Producing these professional resumes, brochures and videos can be quite expensive, and referee candidates often solicit sponsors for money to help pay the expenses. This is a process that repeats every four years, when each candidate must get committee approval to retain their referee commissions.

So, you are entering the arena of competition expecting two things from the referee: (1) to know the rules, and (2) to apply the rules fairly. Then just before the contest is to begin, your coach tells you he just learned that your opponent’s coach gave some money to the referee to help pay the referee's job application expenses. You find this news to be troubling, and you start asking questions. You are no longer focused on what you must do to win because now you have to evaluate whether you will get a fair chance to win. Will this referee lean in the opponent’s favor on close calls because of the other coach’s donation? Might the referee be influenced to rule in favor of the opponent at the end of the match because he knows the coach might help sponsor him when his commission is up for renewal? Then you have a thought, and with hope you ask your coach, “Did you give any money to the referee’s application fund? If so, did you give more than the other coach?”

The sport I just described is not a sport at all. It is the Texas judicial system, and the consequences of winning or losing are much greater than deciding who will receive a trophy or medal at the end of the event. The contests in our court system can have profound, life changing consequences for the participants. We are entitled to a system that gives the greatest possible assurances of fairness, without a doubt.


Political advertising paid for by Russell Manning in compliance with the voluntary limits of the Judicial Campaign Fairness Act
Powered by CampaignPartner.com - Political Campaign Websites