Politics and judgeships shouldn’t mix, but they do. Across the country judges are elected or appointed as part of the political process. Where they are elected, as they are here in Georgia, should lawyers who appear before them be allowed to contribute to their campaigns? Or, maybe the opposite makes sense, lawyers should really consider contributing since lawyers are in the best position (usually) to know which judges are better than others?
The Georgia Supreme Court is now taking a serious look at the issue (click here for a link to the story). The good news is that it seems this is not a “rush to judgment”. There has been a study group and the apparently many different aspects and factors are being considered. The point I made in the first paragraph illustrates the dilemma. On one hand, is it right for lawyers who appear before a judge to contribute (or to refuse to contribute) to a judicial campaign? Does that indiciate a potential for unfair treatment (favorable for donating, unfavorable for not donating)? Perhaps? But if contributions are made to ethical candidates, then the risk is reduced. On the other hand, if lawyers are prohibited from contributing to judicial campaigns, then the contributions will come from less informed sources who may not have had nearly as much experience with the particular judge. Wouldn’t we prefer that those in the know help guide the rest of us?
This is a fascinating issue. There are lots of “workarounds”. Lawyers can (and should, in my opinion) participate actively in opinion polls about judges. Lawyers should educate their clients and friends about judicial races given the insight lawyers, at least trial lawyers, may have about certain judges. But all too often we sit on the sidelines. We know which judges are excellent and we should strive to keep them in place. This benefits society as a whole and lawyers are in a unique position to help and can, and should do their/our part.