Campaigning Judges May Hear Cases From Attorneys Who Donate

The Maryland Judicial Ethics Committee issued a ruling Tuesday that answered questions over whether judges are required to recuse themselves if they have received campaign contributions from attorneys appearing before them. The Committee ruled that it is up to each judge to make a decision whether recusal is necessary based on the details of the case.

Generally, judges must withdraw from proceedings if their impartiality may be reasonably questioned. This has led to debates over whether any campaign contributions by attorneys to a campaigning judge could therefore force the judge to recuse themselves from proceedings.

The main question posed to the Committee:

Must campaigning judges recuse themselves from ALL proceedings wherein they have received campaign contributions from the attorney who is appearing before them?

The Committee found that there is no existing Maryland statute, case law, or provision within the Code of Judicial Conduct that specifically addresses these questions. It looked to other states for precedent and was therefore able to answer the first question. They determined that judges do not have to automatically recuse themselves from every case where an attorney is a donor to their campaign. They assert that judges must make that decision for each proceeding using the specifics of the case.

From the opinion:

…it is the obligation of a judge to hear assigned matters unless recusal is appropriate. In fulfilling the judge’s obligation, he/she may determine that recusal is not required when an attorney has provided a campaign contribution because reasonable minds would not perceive impropriety given the circumstances. But even if the judge believes that recusal is not required, circumstances may be present where the judge has a duty to disclose to adverse counsel the fact of the contribution and/or any other facts concerning the contributing lawyer’s activities in the judge’s campaign.

Maryland Judicial Ethics Committee Opinions

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