Mar 03 2014
In January, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court announced the adoption of a revised Code of Judicial Conduct which will go into effect July of this year. One major area affected by the revised rules revolves around campaign contributions to judicial candidates. Under the new rules of judicial conduct, judges will have to recuse or disqualify themselves from hearing cases involving parties whose campaign contributions “would raise a reasonable concern” about a judge’s ability to be fair and impartial.
Unlike some states which have enacted fixed monetary limits, the Pennsylvania Code’s rule on campaign contributions is far more subjective. Because the new code does not explicitly define what a “reasonable concern” is, it would be left to the discretion of the judge to make his/her own interpretation based on the facts and the parties involved. “Ultimately, each judge will have to weigh the donations and the timing of those donations when considering recusal,” said Northampton County President Judge Stephen Baratta. Pennsylvania Chief Justice Ronald Castille believes that in adopting the “reasonable concern” standard, it ensures even application by judges across the entire state.
WIth judicial candidates now running campaigns that generate contributions in the millions of dollars, public perception has been a significant issue, not just in Pennsylvania but nationwide. A 2013 poll by the Brennan Center and Justice at Stake found that “the public is skeptical of allowing campaign contributions in judicial contests. Nearly 90 percent of voters across the country think campaign donations have at leas some influence on judges’ decisions and more than nine out of ten people said judges should recuse themselves when one party in the case has donated directly or indirectly to a judge’s campaign.”Tags: Code of Judicial Conduct, disqualification, recusal