|by Glenn Tschimpke Staff
Writer, Jacksonville Daily Record - June 11, 2002
Last week, the four judicial candidates facing opposition
in the 4th Circuit Court got a lesson in ethics at the Duval County
Courthouse. Dan Wilensky and David Gooding, competing for Circuit Judge
Alban Brooke’s seat and Gregg McCaulie and John Cascone, competing for
McCaulie’s seat, were treated to an ethical forum of the do’s and don’ts of
It was mostly a bunch of don’ts.
A typical campaign conjures thoughts of flag waving
and fist pounding rhetoric from candidates. The campaign promises, the
mudslinging, the partisanship, the television commercials, the last minute
desperation jabs at opponents — it’s the kind of politicking Americans have
come to accept as the norm. All of the above does not, or should not, apply
to judicial races. Long a position where ethics and morals are expected to
rule, those seeking a judgeship are restricted to little more than an
“A judge or candidate for judicial office shall
refrain from inappropriate political activity,” reads Canon 7 of the Code of
Judicial Conduct, the bible of judicial campaigns.
So what constitutes “inappropriate?” A comprehensive
list of possible inappropriate activity would take more room than any
newspaper could handle in a single issue. Most of the listed forbidden
campaign practices revolve around the non-partisan nature of judicial races.
Those seeking judgeship must shun anything remotely
related to politics and partisanship.
That means don’t:
- be active in a political
- publicly endorse or publicly
oppose another candidate for public office.
- make speeches on behalf of a
- attend political party functions.
- solicit or contribute funds to a
political organization or candidate.
The list goes on and on.
Candidates were given guide books for clarification
packed with rules, frequently asked questions and selected opinions of the
Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee. So is it easy to slip up? “Not really,
not at all,” said attorney Hank Coxe, who attended the forum as a member of
the board of governors for The Florida Bar. “It’s not complicated. It’s
as complicated as you want it to be as long as you try to skirt the rules.”
North Florida judicial candidates have been traditionally well-behaved
compared to their South Florida counterparts. While Coxe noted that the
rules are not difficult, he pointed to a few important areas to remember.
“Two that come to mind that are prominent in a lot of
people’s minds,” he said. “A candidate cannot align with a particular issue
or side of an issue or political groups. That can manifest itself in many
ways.” Candidates who agree to attend political luncheons to talk about
their candidacy are asking for trouble. The strict rules come as no surprise
to Fernandina Beach attorney John Cascone, who is running for Circuit Judge
Gregg McCaulie’s seat. “What the canons say all along is that you can’t
promise anything but to obey the law and treat everybody fair,” Cascone
said. “The message is don’t get out there and introduce political issues in
a non-partisan situation.” Cascone said he declined two invitations in the
last week to attend political functions. “It’s not appropriate to show up as
a candidate,” he said.
What applies for candidates
also applies to campaign supporters. That includes zealous
friends and family who want to get the word out where ever and
whenever they can. While the intent is noble, it could get the candidate in
hot water. For instance, if someone wanted to run for county court,
supporters cannot pass out political flyers at a First Coast Liberated
Republicans luncheon. Nor can they solicit funds for the campaign at
other political functions. Basically, the supporters have to campaign in the
same manner as the candidate, who must vigorously encourage them to do so.
Playing dumb is not a valid excuse. “You
can’t play ostrich and bury your head in the sand,” said Coxe.
Judicial candidates can, however, receive endorsements
from individual political groups. What they do with the endorsements is
critical. If the Fraternal Order of Police endorses a candidate because they
think that is the best candidate based on experience and credentials, that’s
OK. If the candidate takes the endorsement and runs with it by
printing 10,000 flyers, touting the endorsement that’s a no-no.
“It’s how you yourself project your candidacy,”
|SPEAKING OF FLYERS & ENDORSEMENTS......
THIS FLYER ARRIVED SATURDAY - 09/07/02
Will Gooding EVER obey the rules?
(click for larger image)
So what is an example of proper campaigning for
judicial candidates? It’s pretty straightforward. Candidates can say who
they are and what they’ve done. For example, Gooding and Wilensky have
printed similar campaign cards. Gooding’s reads, “David M. Gooding for
Circuit Court Judge. Good for justice!” The card describes his personal and
professional background and his civic affiliations. Wilensky’s card has a
noncommittal slogan: “Experienced. Committed. Trusted.” Equipped with a
family portrait, the card lists past achievements and a brief family
Gooding recently flirted with trouble over the name
of his campaign website,
www.judgegooding.com, which raised a few eyebrows. The misleading
name could have tricked supporters to assume he was an incumbent. Gooding
has since changed the name to
What difference does it make anyway? Politicians make
empty campaign promises all the time. What’s wrong with a little innocent
judicial partisan politics to get ahead? Despite the rules and regulations
about how judicial candidates must conduct themselves, there is no formal
active watchdog. But that doesn’t mean a careless candidate won’t get
bitten. If a judicial race gets dirty, the loser does have recourse.
Complaints can be addressed to the Judicial
Qualification Commission, which investigates questionable conduct of
candidates. The findings are forwarded to the Florida Supreme Court. If the
charges are egregious enough, it can remove a sitting judge from the bench
as a result of campaign misconduct. If that’s not bad enough, The Florida
Bar will be waiting for the deposed judge. Because the Bar cannot discipline
anyone while on the bench, it can disbar the individual after the Florida
Supreme Court escorts him out of his chambers and into the street.
Despite the possible gloom and doom scenario, the
Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee realizes the difference between the
real world and the vacuum-sealed world of rules in the following concession:
“The Committee’s experience during the past several years has demonstrated
that literal obedience to Canon 7 is at times difficult and cannot be
accomplished through adherence to formulated principles. Indeed, the
Committee members occasionally express divergent views about the Canon’s
application. Their disagreement results from factual settings which present
circumstances not readily susceptible of determination through a