Thursday, August 28, 2014

Committee finds no evidence, takes no action on complaint about anonymous website attacking a judge; discourages candidates' involvement in such entities

The Kentucky Judicial Campaign Conduct Committee recently received a complaint from a judicial candidate alleging improper campaign activity on the part of an opponent which involved the creation and maintenance of a website, or the creation of an email with a link to the site.

In accordance with our rules of procedure, our committee inquired of the candidate against whom the complaint was made. After fully considering the response, in which the candidate denied any involvement, and being unable to determine ownership of the website because it is hosted on a commercial server, the KJCCC has insufficient evidence to support a finding that the respondent had any knowledge of the creation and maintenance of the website.

Since the committee finds no evidence of improper campaign activity on the part of a judicial candidate, it is not disclosing the names of either party in this complaint. Both candidates signed a Campaign Agreement with the Committee pledging to campaign according to the Kentucky Code of Judicial Conduct and disavow advertising that uses false or misleading information or accusations to impugn the integrity of a candidate, or erode public trust and confidence in the independence and impartiality of the judiciary.

Since the complaint is a matter of first impression for the committee, we do take this opportunity to discourage strongly any attempt by judicial candidates to be involved anonymously in the use of entities that are represented as independent but are connected to the candidate. While fully supportive of free and open elections, the KJCCC urges judicial candidates to conduct campaigns that are committed to upholding the integrity of the judiciary.

The KJCCC is an independent, non-profit, non-partisan group of interested citizens from all over Kentucky. It includes people from both political parties and various walks of life, including civic leaders, attorneys, non-lawyers and retired judges. The committee encourages judicial candidates to sign a pledge to avoid false or misleading advertising and other campaign tactics that impugn the integrity of the judicial system, the integrity of a candidate, or erode public trust and confidence in the independence and impartiality of the judiciary. A list of members is here.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Committee asks candidates to safeguard courts' integrity, voters to realize judicial elections are different

By Charles Boteler
Chair and President, KJCCC
    Almost 40 years ago, with bipartisan support, Kentuckians amended our constitution to create a unified statewide court system with non-partisan judicial elections, ending a system in which judicial candidates ran under political-party labels. In 2014 Kentucky will elect all of its district, circuit, and Court of Appeals judges. In addition, four justices of the Kentucky Supreme Court will be elected.
   The Kentucky Judicial Campaign Conduct Committee was organized in 2006 as a private group to monitor judicial elections to ensure as best possible that our judges are selected fairly and in a manner that promotes the values of democracy and a free and independent judiciary.
   For the most part, Kentucky has avoided the bitter, overly politicized, and expensive judicial elections which occasionally have marred judicial selection in some other states, most recently Tennessee.
   In this election year the KJCCC makes two requests. First, we ask all judicial candidates to campaign in such a way that their campaigns positively support a court system that will be able to resolve, fairly and in accordance with the rule of law, the various disputes that will require litigation. Though some kinds of campaign activity may be constitutionally permissible, we ask candidates to refrain from the kinds of campaigning that sully the election process and even more importantly call into question the effectiveness and impartiality of our courts.
   Second, we urge Kentucky voters to insist that judicial candidates wage campaigns that focus on the issues relevant to the selection of a judiciary best equipped to function as an independent and competent court system. Judicial elections are different and Kentucky will be served best by judges free to evaluate fairly the evidence and legal issues in all cases that might come before them.
   Kentucky has selected its judges by popular election since the adoption of its third constitution in 1850. Popular election works best when candidates are committed to fair campaigns, and voters are committed equally to informed decision-making.
    In this important election year, the Kentucky Judicial Campaign Conduct Committee pledges it will assist in its role as a private monitoring group dedicated to promoting the values of a well-functioning, independent judiciary, dedicated to the rule of law.

Charles Boteler of Owensboro, a retired circuit judge, is president and chair of the Kentucky Judicial Campaign Conduct Committee Inc., a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan group organized to safeguard the integrity of the judiciary in Kentucky's judicial elections.