Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Virginia/Missouri conservative group asks for investigation of judges who signed recall petitions

Codes of ethics are tricky.  During my work day I am not allowed to participate in partisan political activity either, but that doesn't obviate my constitutional rights.

Here's the story: Conservative group asks for investigation of judges who signed recall petitions

And here's the Code of Ethics.

The relevant section is: SCR 60.06 A judge or judicial candidate shall refrain from inappropriate political activity.

Quite sensible.  Here are the practical details:
(2) Party membership and activities.
(a) Individuals who seek election or appointment to the
judiciary may have aligned themselves with a particular political party and may have engaged in partisan political activities. Wisconsin adheres to the concept of a nonpartisian judiciary. A candidate for judicial office shall not appeal to partisanship and shall avoid partisan activity in the spirit of a nonpartisan judiciary.
(b) No judge or candidate for judicial office or judge-elect may
do any of the following:
1. Be a member of any political party.
2. Participate in the affairs, caucuses, promotions, platforms, endorsements, conventions, or activities of a political party or of a candidate for partisan office.
3. Make or solicit financial or other contributions in support of a political party's causes or candidates.
4. Publicly endorse or speak on behalf of its candidates or platforms.
(c) A partisan political office holder who is seeking election or appointment to judicial office or who is a judge-elect may continue to engage in partisan political activities required by his or her present position.
(d) 1. Paragraph (b) does not prohibit a judge, candidate for judicial office or judge-elect from attending, as a member of the public, a public event sponsored by a political party or candidate for partisan office, or by the campaign committee for such a candidate.
2. If attendance at an event described in subd. 1. requires the purchase of a ticket or otherwise requires the payment of money, the amount paid by the judge, candidate for judicial office, or judge-elect shall not exceed an amount necessary to defray the sponsor's cost of the event reasonably allocable to the judge's, candidate's, or judge-elect's attendance.
(e) Nothing in this subsection shall be deemed to prohibit a judge, judge-elect, or candidate for judicial office, whether standing for election or seeking an appointment, from appearing at partisan political gatherings to promote his or her own candidacy.
And the Comment [my underlining].

The rule prohibits political party membership and activities by judges, nonincumbent candidates for judicial office, and judges-elect. When one becomes a candidate for judicial office is determined by the terms of SCR 60.01 (2) which defines "candidate" as "a person seeking selection for or retention of a judicial office by means of election or appointment who makes a public announcement of candidacy, declares or files as a candidate with the election or appointment authority, or authorizes solicitation or acceptance of contributions." The rule prohibits judicial candidates and judges-elect as well as judges from making or soliciting contributions to the party or its candidates and from publicly endorsing or speaking on behalf of partisan candidates or platforms. Although the rule contemplates the continuance of nonpartisanship on the part of Wisconsin judges and those seeking judicial office, judges are not expected to lead lives of seclusion. As members of the public and as public officeholders, judges may attend public events, even those sponsored by political parties or candidates, so long as the attendance does not constitute the kind of partisan activity prohibited by this rule. The judge, judicial candidate or judge-elect is responsible for so conducting herself or himself that her or his presence at the sponsored event is not made to appear as an endorsement or other prohibited political activity. The judge, judicial candidate, or judge-elect should also exercise care that the price of his or her ticket to any such event does not include a prohibited political contribution.

Is signing a petition an "event"? It's a valid question.

And how, then, do we weigh this against their rights as citizens? Surely Constitutional rights can dovetail with a Wisconsin judge's responsibility to avoid partisanship -- although if that were the case, then we'd need to consider Justice Prosser's opinion regarding the Legislature's failure to follow it's own rules as setting a very bad example for the children.

1 comment:

tomkraj said...

A judge shall not:
"2. Participate in the affairs, caucuses, promotions, platforms, endorsements, conventions, or activities of a political party or of a candidate for partisan office."

Surely the constant campaigning Justices Gableman and Prosser have done at Republican party events is far more egregious than simply saying we should have another election.