Press Releases

City Bar Offers Recommended Revisions to Rule on Case Assignments and Campaign Donations for Judges

New York, April 19, 2011 – The New York City Bar Association applauds the issuance of Proposed Rule 151 of the Rules of the Chief Administrator of New York State’s courts, which relates to court case assignment and campaign donations, and supports the majority of the provisions but has recommendations on several of them. Proposed Rule 151 provides that no case shall be assigned to a judge, other than in an emergency or by necessity, where an attorney or party in a case contributes $2,500) or more individually (or $3,500 or more for a firm) to a judge’s election campaign.

“It has long been the position of the City Bar that the idea that no action is necessary, because judges are not corrupted by campaign contributions, fails to account for the public perception that judges are influenced by such contributions. This public perception undoubtedly corrodes respect for the justice system,” states a letter from the City Bar’s Council on Judicial Administration, signed by Chair Roger Juan Maldonado, to Office of Court Administration Counsel John McConnell.

The letter praises Rule 151 for its simplicity, which, the letter states, addresses the City Bar’s criticism of the Feerick Commission’s proposal in 2004. “For example, we expressed fear that the 2004 proposal, requiring attorneys to disclose their campaign contributions and their clients’ contributions to the judge assigned to the matter, would create the potential for needless and burdensome ancillary motion practice. Because proposed Rule 151 will be implemented by court administrators, individual judges will not be forced to entertain and decide recusal motions based on campaign contributions. Judges who choose to remain ignorant of their campaign contributors will not be forced to learn about them. Because lawyers do not have to make numerous recusal motions, the chance that lawyers will antagonize and endanger their future relationships with a judge is removed,” the letter states.

The City Bar’s several recommendations designed to improve the Proposed Rule include:

  • The Rule should clarify how it would apply when contributions are made during a litigation, as there is the potential for “judge shopping” by making contributions to avoid having a judge continue on a case. In addition, there may be instances of erroneous assignment when an over-the-threshold contribution had been made. The letter urges that the supervising judge have the responsibility to address these situations, consulting with the assigned judge only if necessary. Re-assignment should not be automatic and the non-contributing party should be able to waive re-assignment.
  • The Proposed Rule is unclear regarding members of a firm who are not working on litigation before the judge. “The subsection should be clarified to state clearly that a law firm donation of over $3,500 within two years binds the entire law firm,” states the letter. In addition, the $2,500 and $3,500 thresholds should periodically be adjusted for inflation.
  • The Rule’s implementation in courts that do not use the Individual Assignment System for assigning judges should be clarified.
  • The Rule should make clear that judges do not have an affirmative duty to learn who contributes to their campaigns unless a campaign contribution conflict is brought to their direct attention.

The letter may be read here: