Jul 15 2011
Gavel Grab features a review of an article written by Professor Keith Swisher of the Phoenix School of Law. Swisher’s piece, published in the Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics, looks at the ethical implication of the widespread practice of lawyers contributing to judicial campaigns.
Swisher concludes that campaign contributions do affect case outcomes, citing a 2009 study by Professor Joanna Shepherd that used a model comparing retiring and nonretiring judges to show that campaign contributions did indeed affect judge’s votes. He also cites a 2007 study by Margaret Williams and Corey Ditslear that shows a substantial minority of judges on the Wisconsin Supreme Court appeared to change their voting in exchange for campaign contributions. Finally, he cites a study by Chris W. Bonneau (a staunch supporter of judicial elections) & Damon Cann, which found a “quid pro quo” relationship between contributions and how judges voted in Michigan and Texas.
Given this, Professor Swisher argues that campaign contributions to judges disturb the administration of justice and widen the “wealth rift” between wealthy and poor litigants. He also argues that, under several ethical models, it is immoral for lawyers to contribute to judges. However, he also notes that due to an attorney’s obligation to their client, it may be immoral for an attorney not to donate to campaigns.
Swisher advocates limits on attorney contributions to judges, the use of Caperton-style recusal motions to disqualify judges, research into the opposition’s campaign contributions, disclosure by lawyers of their contributions to presiding judges and even withdrawal in certain cases. Professor Swisher’s article underlines the problems with judicial elections, and highlights the need to work for change.
Tags: campaign contributions, Caperton, Gavel Grab, judicial elections