Candidate Guest Commentary - Sacramento Superior Court judicial candidates should decline money, endorsements from lawyers

By Noel Calvillo | Guest candidate commentary |  Imagine sitting on a jury and as the trial is about to start, one of the attorneys gives...

By Noel Calvillo | Guest candidate commentary | 

Imagine sitting on a jury and as the trial is about to start, one of the attorneys gives the judge $100.00 and says, “Here judge, this is for your upcoming election,” what would be going through your mind? 

A judicial candidate cannot campaign in the courthouse, but what is the difference if the donation is made outside the courthouse? Would a victim of a crime feel comfortable testifying in a trial if he or she knew the judge was endorsed by the criminal defense attorney? These are questions that can be avoided if judicial candidates refuse money and endorsements from lawyers.

In my view, a judge should not put him or herself in a position where the judge’s independence or the fairness of court proceedings are questioned, which is why I have not solicited or accepted endorsements or donations from lawyers in this election. Indeed, I am the only candidate in this race to refuse such endorsements and donations.

As an Administrative Law Judge, I have learned that one thing litigants in a case expect is a fair proceeding. One of the first things I do when I begin a hearing is to ensure the parties that they will be heard and inform them that my job is to conduct a fair, impartial, and independent hearing.

While judges may accept endorsements and donations from lawyers, the law places specific prohibitions on a judge’s ability to preside over matters where one of the parties or lawyers made financial contributions to the judge’s judicial campaign. A judge is disqualified from proceedings involving a lawyer who donated $1,500 or more to the judge’s last election. 

Additionally, the Code of Judicial Ethics requires disclosure of any contribution of $100 or more made by a party, individual, lawyer or law office in the matter These disclosures must be made specifically on the record. Taking campaign donations from lawyers is akin to smoking cigarettes – not against the rules but could possibly cause issues down the road.

Similarly, I believe judicial candidates should not seek or accept endorsements from organizations that represent witnesses who regularly come before the court. The Code of Civil Procedure allows any party or lawyer to disqualify a judge if the party or lawyer believes the judge cannot be fair and impartial. 

It is my belief that defense lawyers would exercise this right to disqualify a judge who was endorsed by law enforcement organizations, which is why I did not seek and have not accepted endorsements from law enforcement organizations. With my background in criminal trials and as a deputy legislative counsel who advised the legislature and drafted hundreds of criminal law bills, it makes no sense for me to put myself in a position where defense lawyers would disqualify me from a criminal case.

Noel Calvillo is an Administrative Law Judge running for Superior Court Judge in Sacramento County. He is the only candidate who has not accepted donations or endorsement from lawyers in this election.

This posting should not be considered an endorsement for Mr. Calvillo by Elk Grove News.  

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