Assemblywoman Sandy Galef has introduced bill A.7983 to improve public confidence in elected judiciaries. Currently the law allows the campaigns for judicial elections to be funded by any willing contributor, including lawyers that appear before the judges in court, and the amount contributed by such parties is not required to be disclosed for public knowledge. Galef wants to change the rules by requiring disclosure of campaign contributions if contributions are $500 or more judges would be disqualified from hearing the case.
The Commission to Promote Public Confidence in Judicial Elections recently released an interim report stating that “one of the most problematic areas for public confidence in judicial elections is campaign contributions.” This relates to the uneasy feeling the public has over justices raising money for their election campaigns from the lawyers that appear before them in court.
A.7983 would require the Chief Administrative Judge to establish certain rules and regulations to ensure that there is not a conflict of interest because of campaign donations before a case is heard in court. It would require all contributions made from the counsel to the particular judge involved in the same hearing be disclosed for public viewing. If contributions exceed $500, the judge would be required to disqualify him or herself, and another judge without a conflict of interest would be appointed. This bill would also require that whenever a case is assigned to a judge, an involved lawyer on the same case would be required to release campaign contributions exceeding $500 to the judge in the past five years.
“The burden of the disclosure required by this legislation should be borne by parties and counsel rather than by the judges,” explained Galef. “Requiring a judge to disclose campaign contributions would force the judge to discover and repeatedly revisit who contributed and in what amount, which could adversely affect public confidence.”
A poll conducted by Marist College revealed that voters across the state agree; 87% believe that a judge should not be allowed to hear or rule in cases when one of the parties has given money to the judge’s campaign; 83% believe that campaign contributions had some or great influence on the judge’s decisions.
“Disclosure of campaign contributions is an important element of the proposed new rule, and just one part of the broader principle of full internet disclosure of all campaign contributions within the state,” said Galef. “By informing the public of campaign contributions and setting rules and regulations, this bill would ensure fair trials and restore public confidence in elected judiciaries.”