There was a story that I saw yesterday in the Register-Herald titled “Berkeley delegate wants judges’ donations disclosed in trials.” Apparently, as per a bill introduced by Delegate Jonathan Miller, “[b]efore the first shred of evidence is put before a jury, members would know how much — if anything — opposing attorneys dumped into the presiding judge’s campaign chest.”
What I want to get is disclosing contributions to sitting judges from attorneys, first and foremost,” Miller, R-Berkeley, said Monday. “They are very involved in these lower races, circuit judges and family court. And I want disclosure to be compelled.”
Miller is labeling his proposal the “Jim Kramer Rule,” named after the investment guru, who, under Securities Exchange Commission rules, must disclose his personal holdings before pitching any stock.
The proposed legislation purportedly would not apply to criminal cases – not that it would be constitutional anyways…. This legislation begs the question: what in the heck is the point of doing this? The reason that we have a jury in civil trials in West Virginia, is to decide contested issues of fact. Of course the lawyers always believe that the trial judge favors and/or helps one side or the other somewhat during the trial. But from the point of view of the jury, the judge is supposed to be neutral, and is only assisting them in doing their job. In fact, the judge will instruct them not to try and speculate as to what he thinks about the case. To instruct the jury from the beginning on which lawyer contributed campaign donations would confuse the jury from the start, and would possibly cause prejudice to an innocent party. The lawyer is only representing the client. Now if the client has some sort of improper connection with the judge, that could be different, in which case there already exists a procedure for the recusal of a judge if there exists a conflict.
Regardless, there’s no way this legislation, if passed, would get through the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals – all of whom are judges who arrived where they are, in part, through campaign contributions.
– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.