New York Plans New Rule on Attorneys Donating to Judges' Campaigns
Attorneys who have contributed $2,500 or more and firms that have donated $3,500 or more to judicial candidates would be barred for two years from appearing before those judges under a new rule Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman will outline this week.
The chief judge said in an interview that he would unveil the new requirement during his 2011 State of the Judiciary address at the Court of Appeals in Albany on Tuesday.
Judge Lippman, who said he had the authority to impose the rule on his own, noted that court administrators have been considering the new rules since the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co., 129 U.S. 2252 (2009).
In that ruling, a 5-4 Court held that a West Virginia Supreme Court judge should have recused himself because he had received large campaign contributions from executives of a coal company in a case before him.
The judges of New York's Court of Appeals, the state's top court, are appointed, as are judges of the New York City Family and Criminal Courts. Other state judgesabout
Judge Lippman said administrative judges will review contributions to judges made by lawyers or their law firms. When contributions to a certain judge exceed the new limits, the attorney's or firm's case will not be assigned to that judge.
Judge Lippman said his approach would relieve judges and attorneys from having to "raise their hands" and recuse themselves when there has been a large contribution.
Proposals to limit lawyers' campaign contributions have been controversial in the past.
A task force chaired by former Fordham Law School dean John Feerick recommended in 2003 that judges be required to recuse themselves whenever a party objected that an opponent, or the opponent's lawyer, had within the last five years donated more than $500 to a judge's campaigns.
The court system decided not to adopt the rule after hearing from bar groups that the rule was unworkable because many upstate communities only had one judge and most lawyers practicing before them had contributed to the judge's campaign.
However, the size of the contribution threshold recommended by Judge Lippman could alleviate that concern. He said that he did not know how many judges or lawyers would be affected.
Information about political contributions is public record and widely available Judge Lippman pointed out.
"We are not casting any aspersions on anyone," he said. "But over the years, we are not oblivious that this has been an issue... Campaign contributions are matters of public record. So the fiction that we previously had that judges don't know who contributed to them is not really compatible with the society we live in today."
He added, "By not assigning cases in a particular situation, we are doing this systematically and in a more policy-directed way that treats judges fairly without making them raise their hands" and recuse themselves.
The Feerick commission reported in 2006 that escalating costs were undermining the public's confidence in the judiciary.
The task force cited a Marist College poll in which more than 80 percent of the New Yorkers responding said contributions to judges could have some or a great deal of influence on judges' rulings and that people contributing to judges' campaigns should not be allowed to appear before them.
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From: Joel Stashenko, "New York Plans New Rule on Attorneys Donating to Judges' Campaigns," New York Lawyer, reprinted from New York Law Journal, February 14, 2011, http://www.nylj.com/nylawyer/news/11/02/021411d.html, accessed 02/14/2011. Reprinted in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C.
NY Sets Rule Barring Judges' Assignment to Cases Involving Significant Donors
ALBANY Nearly 1,000 elected state judges will no longer receive assignments to cases where lawyers, their firms or their clients have contributed $2,500 or more to the judge's campaigns in the previous two years, or have collectively contributed $3,500 or more, under a new rule adopted by the court system.
Section 151.1 of the Rules of the Chief Administrative Judge, whose approval was announced yesterday, will take effect on July 15 and apply to any political contributions received after that date.
"This rule promotes public confidence in the independence, fairness and impartiality of the Judiciary," said Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman.
He said the new rule establishes "simple" guidelines to alleviate public suspicion of
"It is not a recusal rule," he said. "It is an assignment rule."
The chief judge unveiled the new rules in February. After a period of public comment, a final revised rule was accepted by the administrative board of the courts, which is comprised of Judge Lippman and the presiding justices of the four Appellate Division departments.
"The comments were very helpful," Judge Lippman said. "The basic thing I took out of them is that overwhelmingly, people thought the approach is a good one."
The major addition to the original rule is a provision allowing a
The revisions also include a definition of covered contributions. And the final version makes clear that a lawyer or client always has the right to seek recusal.
Under the new rule, judges could hear cases involving contributors who have exceeded the limits if there are no other judges available, in emergencies or in the interests of justice.
The chief judge said court officials are working on a computer program that will return special reports of campaign contributions made to judges as reported to the state Board of Elections. It will then be up to local administrative judges to "periodically" check on donations to their judges and to avoid assignments where the donations have been exceeded.
The rule also stipulates that the limits do not apply to
The rule leaves it up to Chief Administrative Judge Ann Pfau to issue regulations, if necessary, for the implementation of the campaign limits.
Officials of the New York State Bar Association, the Fund for Modern Courts and the New York City Bar all issued statements through the OCA yesterday endorsing the new rule.
"The rule is a well
Milton Williams Jr., chair of the Fund for Modern Courts, said the revised rule "effectively addresses the necessity that, in the area of campaign contributions to judicial elections, the conduct of judges must appear beyond reproach if the public is to have confidence in the Judiciary's impartiality. The formal adoption of this rule will mark a genuine step forward in New York state and put it at the forefront of those states which are concerned about safeguarding the independence and integrity of the Judiciary. This rule will change the way that contributors, candidates for elected judicial office and the public view campaign contributions."
The New York County Lawyers' Association reiterated in a separate statement that it favored the appointment rather than the election of judges. But the group said it is pleased the revised rule adopted NYCLA's recommendation allowing parties to waive the
About 1,000 of the 1,300
The past president of the New York State County Judges Association, Judge James F.X. Doyle of Suffolk County, said campaigns for county judgeships generally do not attract contributions in the size that would trigger the rule. County Court races upstate tend to be
Suffolk County Supreme Court Justice Thomas F. Whelan, who had blasted the rule during the comment period as an "assault on the constitutionally conferred authority" of judges, said yesterday that court administrators had failed to make the case that judges in New York were compromised by the political contributions.
In an interview, Justice Whelan said, "Why are we trying to correct a problem that I don't even see exists in the state of New York?"
Even the process of adopting the new rule has served to harm the reputation of the Judiciary, he said.
"I think it does cast us all in sort of a bad light," Justice Whelan said. "We are presumptively corruptible because we receive contributions?"
An upstate judge who asked not to be identified called the rule "typical OCA, solving a perceived problem in New York City and creating a problem for the rest of us upstate."
Fulton County Surrogate Polly A. Hoye, the president of the New York State Surrogates Association, said her group did not take a formal stand on the proposed rule.
She said few upstate surrogate's races attract anywhere near the kinds of contributions the rule mentions. She said a $50,000 campaign for surrogate could only be sustained in the largest counties.
"I can tell you in my case I have never seen contributions anywhere near that size that has not come from a family member," Surrogate Hoye said.
Copyright 2011, ALM Media Properties, LLC
From: Joel Stashenko, "New York Plans New Rule on Attorneys Donating to Judges' Campaigns," New York Lawyer, reprinted from New York Law Journal, February 14, 2011, http://www.law.com/jsp/nylj/nylawyer/PubArticleFriendlyNYL.jsp?id=1202498866966, accessed 02/14/2011. Joel Stashenko can be contacted at email@example.com. Reprinted in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C.