Do campaign contributions donated to Luzerne County judicial candidates or sitting judges seeking retention affect the way they rule in court cases? Jennifer Learn-Andes posed a question to five of seven sitting judges to seek the answer. You will find her report in today's Times Leader.
Two lawyers appear in court. One donated thousands to the judge’s campaign and the other gave nothing. Will they be treated the same?
Absolutely, say five of the seven elected Luzerne County judges who accepted campaign donations from lawyers.
But getting people to believe that is a problem, said Shira Goodman, co-director of the nonprofit Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts.
There’s a growing public perception in Pennsylvania and nationally that judges can’t simply be impartial with donors who helped them get elected or pay off campaign debt, Goodman said.
“With the courts, perception is reality. Even if that perception is wrong, people don’t think they’re getting a fair shake. That undermines the whole system,” Goodman said.
“You don’t want anyone to say, ‘I wonder if my lawyer gave money to the judge.’ ”
My personal belief is that campaign donations should be limited. Attorneys like Mike Butera just don't seem to get it. Jerry Lynott of the Times Leader writes the following information in his story yesterday.
When attorney Michael Butera learned the campaign committee to retain Luzerne County Judge Michael Conahan was accepting donations from members of the bar in 2003, he contributed $10,000.
The contribution came nearly a year after Conahan awarded Butera $931,452 in a non-jury trial for injuries suffered in a bicycle accident.
It was the largest single amount the Hughestown attorney said he gave to a candidate and was totally voluntary.
It raises no concerns for me,” Butera said Friday. “Judge Conahan never asked me for a penny.” It may not raise a concern for you Mike, but it certainly taints the public's perception of the judiciary and would appear to cast doubt, something the Judicial Canons try to address.
Previously I wrote how former Judge Ciavarella donated $12,500.00 to the Luzerne County Democratic Party during his retention campaign. How does a Republican feel if he would go before Ciavarella? Would he/she stand a chance? Ask Lou Barletta when Ciavarella ruled on the address of Michael Marsicano during his mayoral campaign in 2007.