The Kentucky Judicial Campaign Conduct Committee is condemning the campaign tactics of both candidates for a seat on the state Court of Appeals.
The committee finds that the campaign of Judge Allison Jones of Prospect undermined the high standards by which judicial campaigns should be conducted, by saying she is running for re-election when she has never been elected, and by making scurrilous insinuations on social media that a reasonable person would read as references to her opponent. The Facebook post was made by the judge’s husband, Larry Jones, her campaign treasurer, and carried the campaign logo.
The committee also finds that the challenger in the 6th District race, Justin Sanders of Covington, has also fallen short of the standards of judicial campaigning by implying that Judge Jones lives in Louisville, when she does not, and that he has misstated the role of a judge by saying that “Northern Kentuckians can best assure fair representation” by electing him to the court.
The first complaint in the race, against Judge Jones, was filed by Covington lawyer Robert E. Sanders, the father of candidate Justin Sanders. The second complaint was filed by Judge Jones against Justin Sanders.
Robert Sanders filed his complaint Oct. 30. He cited a Sept. 21 Facebook post by Larry Jones, the second through fourth paragraphs of which discussed Judge Jones’ opponent without using his name. The fifth paragraph began, “And the lies. Wow, the lies have started with personal attacks being spread throughout the communities. I do have a warning though: He who lives in a glass house should not cast stones. Allison does not want to go negative. It just isn’t her style. But whatever she might be forced to do will be backed up by documented proof.”
The sixth paragraph began “For instance, if it involves . . .” and went on to mention examples of misbehavior, both personal and criminal. Robert Sanders’s complaint said that Justin Sanders had never engaged in such behavior. The Jones campaign did not respond to the Sanders complaint in writing, but Larry Jones said in an oral reply to the Committee that he was not referring to Justin Sanders. The Committee finds that a reasonable person would understand the paragraph to be referring to the opposing candidate, because of the context, and that it was wholly inappropriate.
The Committee also finds that Judge Jones misled voters by asking them to “re-elect” her in campaign materials and a published statement. She was appointed to the court to fill a vacancy, is seeking election to the unexpired term, and has never been elected to public office.
The Sanders complaint also noted that Judge Jones had scheduled for election night a drawing for University of Kentucky basketball tickets among supporters who had promoted her candidacy in certain ways on Facebook. The Committee is concerned that such activity may undermine the integrity of the judiciary because state law says candidates shall not “become liable in any way for money or other thing of value, either directly or indirectly, to any person in consideration of the vote or financial or moral support of that person.” The Jones campaign said it canceled the drawing after receiving a copy of the Sanders complaint.
After it replied to the complaint, the Jones campaign filed one against Sanders, alleging that he has misled voters by attempting to portray Judge Jones as a resident of Louisville and/or Jefferson County, which is outside the district. Jones lives in the Oldham County portion of the city of Prospect.
The Sanders campaign said that it has never said Jones lives in Louisville, but has said that she practices law there. A newspaper column by Justin Sanders said in an Oct. 17 column in a Northern Kentucky newspaper, “My opponent spent the bulk of her career as a Louisville lawyer, rarely, if ever, practicing in the Sixth District.” Though Prospect is in the Louisville metropolitan area, the Committee finds that a reasonable reader of such statements could incorrectly conclude that Jones lives in Jefferson County.
The Jones complaint also alleged that Sanders has “stated and implied that he would place Northern Kentucky's interests above other geographic areas in ruling on cases.” Sanders wrote in the newspaper column, “The question, for example, of whether state funds should be used here to replace the Brent Spence Bridge, or on a competing project for Louisville, could end up before the Court of Appeals. How confident could one be in the fairness of its decision if Louisville had three judges on the court and Northern Kentucky had only one? Northern Kentuckians can best assure fair representation by electing a Northern Kentucky judge.”
The Kentucky constitution gives the court two judges from each of the seven districts, to ensure a diversity of backgrounds. The Sanders campaign argues that is a form of representation. However, the judges on appellate courts do not represent voters in the sense that legislative and executive officials do, and the Committee finds that using the word “representation” misrepresents the role of the courts and judges, which is to rule on the law and facts, not to represent interests. This is an important distinction to preserve in judicial campaigns.
Finally, the Committee believes that if a judicial campaign has a problem with actions of a competing campaign, and wants to complain to the Committee about it, such complaints should be filed promptly. Last-minute charges and counter-charges do little to uphold the integrity of the judiciary and the principle that judicial campaigns should be different from campaigns for legislative and executive office.
The Committee is an independent, non-governmental, 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. For more information, see http://kyjccc.blogspot.com.