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In a move that prevents judges from acting like politicians, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that judicial candidates may not personally solicit campaign money during an election. The ruling marked a victory for many in the legal profession who argue that politics must stay out of the judiciary in order to preserve the sanctity of judges. “The more you can take politics out of the judiciary, the better,” said attorney Cynthia Gray, director of the Center for Judicial Ethics of the American Judicature Society. “If [judges] start acting like politicians, then people will start treating them like politicians . . . and if you want to keep [politics] out once they’re on the bench, you need to keep it out when they’re selected.” Minnesota attorney Gregory Wersal, the former judiciary candidate who, six years ago, initiated the challenge to his state’s election rules, vehemently disagrees. “They’ve taken it too far. You can’t ask for even a dime, it’s just ridiculous,” said Wersal of the Greg Wersal Law Office in Minneapolis. He suggests the state allow judicial candidates to seek a maximum of $500 in political contributions. “I can understand the fear here that there’s going to be some kind of influence on the judge . . . but it’s unlikely you’re going to buy a judge for 500 bucks,” Wersal said. Judicial campaign rules vary from state to state. According to the Washington-based Justice at Stake Campaign, a nonpartisan, nonprofit group that researches the role of money in judicial campaigns, Texas has no prohibition on personal solicitation. By contrast, North Carolina, in trying to ease the burden of fund raising on judicial candidates, recently began offering public financing for qualifying judicial candidates-the only state to do so. In February, New York bar leaders opposed the recommendation of Chief Judge Judith Kaye to require recusal of judges who have accepted more than $500 in campaign contributions over a five-year period from lawyers who appear before them. In most states, judicial candidates form committees that raise campaign funds for them, and the committees screen the candidates from seeing the lists of donors. “Some judges will tell you that this system is ineffective and something of a sham, but that is the system that is in place,” said Jesse Rutledge of the Justice at Stake Campaign. In its recent ruling, the 8th Circuit acted on a remand from the U.S. Supreme Court, which two years ago gave judicial candidates the right to express personal views. Republican Party of Minnesota v. Kelly, No. 99-4021. That landmark free speech ruling, which affected 38 states that elect judges, challenged a Minnesota law that prohibits judicial candidates from announcing their views on “disputed legal or political issues.” The Supreme Court struck down the rule, saying it violated the right to free speech. It did not, however, consider two other issues raised in the lawsuit: personal solicitation and the right to take part in partisan activities. Those topics were remanded to the 8th Circuit, which provided little relief to the plaintiffs. Issue of partisan activities Wersal said that the 8th Circuit not only upheld Minnesota’s ban on personal solicitation, but it remanded the partisan-activities issue to the district court for further consideration. “They punted and it’s very disappointing,” Wersal said. “I just don’t know what additional facts they think we’re going to come up with.” The 8th Circuit did, however, remand the speech restriction to the district court to enter judgment for Wersal. “They had to give me that,” Wersal said. “That was pretty much decided for them.” Ken Jorgensen, director of the Minnesota Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility, one of the plaintiffs in Wersal’s lawsuit, argues that the increasing role of big money and special interest groups in judicial elections is eroding the public’s trust in the judicial system. According to Justice at Stake Campaign, state Supreme Court candidates raised $45.6 million in 2000, a 61% increase from 1998. Also in 2000, 80% of advertisements involved negative attacks. “Some political campaign conduct flies in the face of maintaining impartiality,” Jorgensen said. Given that, he said, judicial candidates should not expect to be allowed the same campaign rights as political candidates because their jobs are not the same.

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