Here’s an old Chicago joke: A judge comes to a lawyer preparing to try a case. “The other side just gave me $10,000 to decide for them,” he says. “You have two choices: you can give me $20,000 to decide for you.” “What’s other choice?” the lawyer says. “Give me $10,000 and I’ll just decide based on the law.” A judge who actually tried this would be in trouble. Flat-out bribery is illegal. But very often the real scandal in a society is what is legal. What about a judge who says, “You might want to know that the other firm has contributed to my campaign fund”? Currently 39 out of the 50 states have a system of popular election for judges. All but nine of those states have laws providing that judges and judicial candidates “shall not personally solicit campaign funds, or solicit attorneys for publicly stated support.” They may establish campaign committees to raise funds; but the hey-given-me-money-lately sidebar is forbidden.
The language above is Florida’s version of the rule. Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar, a case to be argued before the Supreme Court Tuesday, tests whether that rule violates the First Amendment.
Lanell Williams-Yulee wanted to be a county judge in Hillsborough County, Florida, which includes Tampa. She sent out a cheery mass mailing that said, “An early contribution of $25, $50, $100, $250, or $500, made payable to ‘Lanell Williams-Yulee Campaign for County Judge’, will help raise the initial funds needed to launch the campaign and get our message out to the public.” She eventually lost the election; meanwhile, the Bar filed a complaint with the state Supreme Court. The Court, through a referee, found that she had thought, in good faith, that she was not violating the no-direct-solicitation rule; nonetheless, it said, she was guilty. In addition to the finding of guilt, she was required to pay the costs of the proceedings against her.
Full Article: When Can a Judge Ask, ‘Write Me a Check’? – The Atlantic.