Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Supreme Court's campaign donations ruling likely to have little effect on Tampa Bay judges

Members of the Tampa Bay area legal community don't expect much local fallout from the U.S. Supreme Court decision this week that, for the first time, requires elected judges to take themselves off cases involving generous campaign donors.

Justices and appellate judges in Florida are appointed, unlike the West Virginia Supreme Court justice ordered off a case that overturned a $50 million verdict against a company whose chief executive contributed $3 million in his election.

The state's county and circuit judges face re-election every four to six years, respectively. But they can't get more than $500 in individual campaign contributors, and their donations rarely come from corporate fat cats.

Instead, their campaigns are funded largely by the attorneys who practice before them. That system comes with its own concerns, though local attorneys and judges insist that due process is not dictated by campaign money.

"I know it sounds almost Pollyannish," said Hillsborough Circuit Judge William Levens, but "the reality is the judges take (their) oath more seriously than any debt that would flow from a campaign contribution."

Laughing, he added, "I have ruled against contributors."

When Levens filed for re-election last year, all but three of his 155 contributors were lawyers. He returned the bulk of the money after drawing no challengers.

One of those contributors, civil trial attorney Chris Knopik, said some people might contribute to judicial races hoping that their clients will somehow benefit. But he suspects the majority of lawyers write checks for the same reason he does: "Because I felt that they were definitely the superior candidate and not because I expected anything."

Lawyers are often the only people contributing to judicial campaigns because they are also the only ones paying attention to them, said Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge W. Douglas Baird.

"The public doesn't know whether (judges) are good or bad, or smart or stupid," he said. "This is the whole problem with electing judges."

Legal types acknowledged, however, the corrupting political influence that could occur with an appointment-only system.

Though local judicial races have grown more expensive, none has had anywhere near the money involved in the extreme case at the center of this week's Supreme Court decision.

Justice Anthony Kennedy said not every campaign contribution by a litigant or attorney creates a "probability of bias."

Supreme Court's campaign donations ruling likely to have little effect on Tampa Bay judges 06/09/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 9, 2009 10:49pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. No. 16 USF hangs on at Tulane, off to first 7-0 start

    College

    NEW ORLEANS — After half a season of mismatches, USF found itself in a grudge match Saturday night.

    USF quarterback Quinton Flowers (9) runs for a touchdown against Tulane during the first half of an NCAA college football game in New Orleans, La., Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Derick E. Hingle) LADH103
  2. Lightning buries Penguins (w/video)

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — Ryan Callahan spent a lot of time last season rehabilitating his injured hip alongside Steven Stamkos, who was rehabbing a knee after season-ending surgery. During those hours, Callahan noticed two things about Stamkos: his hunger and his excitement to return this season.

    Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Slater Koekkoek (29) advances the puck through the neutral zone during the first period of Saturday???‚??„?s (10/21/17) game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Pittsburgh Penguins at Amalie Arena in Tampa.
  3. Spain planning to strip Catalonia of its autonomy

    World

    BARCELONA, Spain — The escalating confrontation over Catalonia's independence drive took its most serious turn Saturday as Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of Spain announced he would remove the leadership of the restive region and initiate a process of direct rule by the central government in Madrid.

    Demonstrators in Barcelona protest the decision to take control of Catalonia to derail the independence movement.
  4. Funeral held for soldier at center of political war of words (w/video)

    Nation

    COOPER CITY — Mourners remembered not only a U.S. soldier whose combat death in Africa led to a political fight between President Donald Trump and a Florida congresswoman but his three comrades who died with him.

    The casket of Sgt. La David T. Johnson of Miami Gardens, who was killed in an ambush in Niger. is wheeled out after a viewing at the Christ The Rock Church, Friday, Oct. 20, 2017  in Cooper City, Fla. (Pedro Portal/Miami Herald via AP) FLMIH102
  5. Chemical industry insider now shapes EPA policy

    Nation

    WASHINGTON — For years, the Environmental Protection Agency has struggled to prevent an ingredient once used in stain-resistant carpets and nonstick pans from contaminating drinking water.

    This is the Dow chemical plant near Freeport, Texas. Before the 2016 election, Dow had been in talks with the EPA to phase out the pesticide chlorpyrifos, which is blamed for disabilities in children. Dow is no longer willing to compromise.