Feb 13 2009
The Allentown Morning Call reports that a judge in Northampton County is being criticized for failing to reveal that he received campaign contributions from a party involved in a case. The case initially had been assigned to another judge, who recused herself because she had received campaign contributions from one of the parties. Although the second judge raised other potential conflicts of interest, he did not disclose the campaign contributions and did not recuse.
In Pennsylvania — as in most states — judges are not required to recuse when campaign contributors are involved as parties or lawyers. That very issue is now before the United States Supreme Court in Caperton v. Massey, which asks whether the Due Process Clause requires recusals in cases involving very signficant campaign donors.
The donations at issue in the Northampton County case are much smaller than in Caperton, but the same concerns are present: can courts maintain actual independence and can the public believe courts are independent when judges preside over cases involving campaign contributors? We have long believed that the increasingly important role of money in judicial elections is damaging to the independence of the judiciary and the public’s confidence in the fairness of the courts. The best way to solve this problem is to get judges out of the fundraising business. Merit Selection can do this.Tags: Allentown Morning Call, Caperton v. Massey, Merit Selection, Northampton County, recusal