Dinner Invitation Sparks Ethical Debate: JAS Weighs In

JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg
JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg

A fundraising dinner hosted by four New York Republican judicial candidates has attracted bipartisan criticism, according to a (Rochester) Democrat and Chronicle editorial. The invitation, sent to more than 3000 lawyers, listed 14 co-hosts, mostly spouses of sitting judges. The judges themselves are prohibited from hosting the dinner.

Bert Brandenburg, Executive Director of Justice at Stake, says the problem is judicial fundraising in general. “Money is becoming a cancer on the judiciary across the country,” he said “… Every judge who has a tough criminal case can’t help but look over the shoulder and think, ‘What’s the ad that’s going to be cut on this one?’”

“The explosion of money is forcing judges to become professional fundraisers, forcing them to raise big money from people who appear before them,” Brandenburg continued. “Even on a good day any system that combines money and justice is going to be messy and complicated at best.”

Ontario County Court Judge Craig Doran, one of the candidates, said he was careful to make sure the dinner stayed in ethical confines. Still, criticism of this style of fundraising and the election process in general, is growing. Retired Justice Van Stydonck commented on the negative public impression made when judicial candidates raise money from lawyers. “The appearance of [a skewed system] is troublesome,” he said. “But where else do judges who run for office go for funds?”