Sitting Judges Face Challengers in Five Circuits in
~Most incumbents commit to MDJCCC standards; most challengers do not~
In Maryland's September primary election, contested
judicial elections will take place in five judicial circuits. On September 12,
sitting judges will face challengers in the second, third, fifth, seventh and
eighth judicial circuits; only those in the first, fourth and sixth circuits
face no contenders in the primary. To date, judicial campaigning for Maryland's
primary has been conducted in a professional manner, and some of the credit for
the prevailing civility goes to the Maryland Judicial Campaign Conduct
Committee's "Standards for the Conduct of Contested Judicial Elections."
Contested judicial elections are gaining momentum
across the country, as 80 percent of state judges now face some type of
election, according to the American Bar Association. In Maryland, only circuit
court judges must stand for contested elections. As the number of contested
judicial elections escalates, so does their contentiousness.
Thus, 14 states, including Maryland, have created
judicial campaign-oversight groups. These voluntary citizen committees monitor
judicial elections to preserve the Judiciary's reputation for fairness and
impartiality and generate public respect for a judge's role, integrity and
objectivity. Many have created Standards for the Conduct of Contested Judicial
Elections and asked judicial candidates to commit to them in writing. In
Maryland, most sitting judges have agreed to abide by the "Standards for the
Conduct of Contested Judicial Elections" issued by Maryland's Judicial Campaign
Conduct Committee, while only three contenders have made this commitment.
To foster civility and dignity in the conduct of
Maryland's judicial elections, the Honorable Robert M. Bell, Chief Judge of the
Court of Appeals of Maryland, created the Maryland Judicial Campaign Conduct
Committee (MDJCCC) in May 2006. MDJCCC, co-chaired by former United States
Attorney George Beall and former Maryland Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs, is
a volunteer, diverse, representative and bi-partisan group of Maryland citizens
with no formal authority. Its goal is to ensure that Maryland judicial elections
are conducted in a manner that promotes respect for the integrity and legitimacy
of the bench.
"Our role is to establish standards for the conduct
of contested judicial elections in the state, respond to complaints about
violations of the standards and encourage contestants to agree to abide by
them," states Sachs.
MDJCCC also educates judicial candidates about
appropriate campaign conduct, and criticizes inappropriate and improper judicial
campaign conduct that occurs.
Its credo is simple: "Judicial elections are
different." MDJCCC's thrust is to ensure, through public education, that
Maryland judicial elections are conducted in a civil manner. Through public
education, MDJCCC is conveying the message that "judges represent the law.
Judges have a unique role, so judicial candidates must be held to a higher
standard than candidates for other elective offices."
Most Incumbents Commit to Standards – Most
Challengers Do Not
In May, MDJCCC developed a set of "Standards for the
Conduct of Contested Judicial Elections" and asked all candidates, challengers
and incumbents to commit to these Standards and pledge, in writing, to abide by
them in their campaigns. The Standards (see below), which reflect
civility and dignity, may be found at
MDJCCC has publicly identified candidates who have
agreed to this pledge (see right). As noted above, it is largely the
challengers in Maryland's judicial contested elections who are not offering
their support of MDJCCC's civility Standards.
The Committee also reviews complaints alleging
violations of the Standards. Complaints have been few in the 2006 primary for
judicial contested elections, with only one contender attracting attention for
"misleading advertising," and several other minor ones regardint the placement
of election signs. Where appropriate, MDJCCC has made further inquiry to
determine whether the challenged conduct comports with the letter and the spirit
of the Standards. Where appropriate, it refers specific allegations to the
Judicial Ethics Committee of the Attorney Grievance Commission.
MDJCCC Co-Chair Stephen Sachs "hopes judicial
candidates' awareness of MDJCCC is enough to temper unsuitable and uncivil
conduct during judicial campaigning." Given the civility in this year's judicial
campaigning, MDJCCC's thrust seems to be effective.