Judge Charles W. Campbell defends his unprecedented campaigning on behalf of a career district attorney administrator who is running for judge on the basis that "during judicial elections judges share the same 1st Amendment rights as any other citizen."
This belief is contrary to the clear law that governs the conduct of judges.
Whether Judge Campbell must be disqualified from hearing a criminal case prosecuted by a district attorney will be decided by another judge. Whatever the outcome of that hearing, the actions of the judge and the prosecutor who solicited his actions demonstrate a severe lapse in judgment and a skewed understanding of the role of a judge and the rules governing the behavior of judges.
Canon 2, Section A, requires that a judge "shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary." The commentary explains that this requirement to avoid even the appearance of impropriety does in fact restrict a judge's right to act and speak, despite the 1st Amendment: "A judge must therefore accept restrictions on the judge's conduct that might be viewed as burdensome by other members of the community."
Canon 2 also states that no judge shall "convey or permit others to convey the impression that any individual is in a special position to influence the judge." Other canons prohibit lending the "prestige of judicial office" to help others and specifically require a judge to "conduct all of the judge's extrajudicial activities so that they do not cast reasonable doubt on the judge's capacity to act impartially."
The canons are clear that a judge must not use the prestige of office to advance the interests of any attorney who appears before the judge regularly. The reason is simple to understand. The party who opposes that favored attorney in front of the campaigning judge is likely to feel that he or she might not get a fair shake. The judicial canons recognize this simple rule of common sense and require judges to conduct themselves so as not to raise the suspicion that they are partial to one litigant over another.
Given these clear and obvious restrictions on judicial campaigning, one wonders: Why would a judge risk being disqualified from all criminal cases just to be able to publicly campaign for another prosecutor to become judge? The very fact that actions of the judge and prosecutor legitimately raise this concern call into question the judgment of the parties.
NEIL B. QUINN, Senior Deputy Public Defender, Ventura
The actions by some public defenders to disqualify judges from hearing criminal cases because those judges endorsed Deputy Dist. Atty. Kevin McGee in his campaign to be elected a judge represents only one aspect of a growing problem in our judiciary.
For too long, it appears that no one can become a judge in Ventura County unless that person has worked for the district attorney and has the district attorney's sponsorship.
Those judges endorsing McGee merely show their affinity for a former co-worker. However, that same affinity may also unconsciously affect their judicial actions when they see former co-workers arguing a case. Furthermore, we have a judiciary experienced in criminal law but without extensive experience in civil and family law.
It is time to end the district attorney's control over Ventura County's judges. It is time to vote for judges not endorsed by the prosecutors.
DAVID E. ROSS, Oak Park