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Funding Urged for Judges’ Elections

July 23, 2001

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Expensive campaigns are stripping state judges of their impartial images, a commission said Monday in recommending public funding for elections.

Spending on recent court races in some states has exceeded $1 million, and candidates usually raise the money from attorneys and groups with an interest in court decisions, an American Bar Association commission found.

Candidates are facing an ``escalating arms race,″ the commission wrote in the study on state supreme court and appellate races. ``When judges are required to campaign like political branch candidates, it contributes to the inappropriate politicization of the judiciary.″

Alfred P. Carlton Jr. said Americans are being soured by some of the aggressive judicial campaigns.

``They say, ``There go the politicians again,‴ said Carlton, a Raleigh, N.C., attorney who becomes ABA president in 2002.

The commission said the 39 states with judicial elections should study ways to pay for campaigns for some of the highest court jobs. Wisconsin already provides some help to judicial candidates.

The commission had no estimate on the cost, but Carlton said funding will be an obstacle for states that are already cash-strapped. He said states could impose fees on attorneys or people who file court cases.

Jan W. Baran, a Washington attorney, said while candidates need help paying for races, states must be careful of constitutional issues.

``They cannot stamp out all debate about campaigns, whether they’re judicial or otherwise,″ he said.

The commission’s recommendation will be voted on in February by the ABA’s governing board. Carlton said he expects it to pass.

The study was funded by the Joyce Foundation, a Chicago public policy group, for the 400,000-member ABA.


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