Background

Background of the Committee

In his 2005 state of the judiciary address, Chief Judge Robert M. Bell of the Court of Appeals of Maryland, acting on the recommendations of the Judicial Ethics Committee and the Public Trust and Confidence Committee, called for the formation of a citizens’ committee to study and monitor the conduct of contested judicial elections in Maryland. Chief Judge Bell asked former United States Attorney George Beall and former United States Attorney and Maryland Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs to co-chair the committee and invited Professor Sherrilyn A. Ifill of the University of Maryland School of Law, who has studied and written extensively on judicial elections, to serve as a committee member and it’s reporter. 

Messrs. Beall and Sachs and Professor Ifill recruited the other members of the Maryland Judicial Campaign Conduct Committee (MDJCCC), a diverse, representative and bi-partisan group of Marylanders committed to maintaining respect for the uniqueness of the judicial office, and to promoting civility in the conduct of contested elections for Maryland’s circuit court judgeships.  A list of MDJCCC’s members and a brief biographical sketch of each can be found by clicking the link "Who We Are" to the left. In January 2009, Chief Judge Bell appointed Linda Pierson as chair of the committee. Messrs. Bell and Sachs and Professor Ifill continue as committee members.

The creation of MDJCCC is the result of several recent developments. First, in 2002 the Supreme Court of the United States in Republican Party of Minnesota v. White, 536 U.S. 765, struck down on First Amendment grounds restrictions on candidate speech that prevent judicial candidates from announcing their views on legal and political issues. In an attempt to accommodate the ruling in White, the Maryland Judicial Ethics Committee and the Rules Committee of the Court of Appeals incorporated into Canon 5 of the Maryland Code of Judicial Conduct and Rule 8.2 of the Rules of Professional Conduct changes that promote the free exercise of speech in judicial campaigns.

Second, perhaps as a consequence of the decision in White — or perhaps as a reflection of a more general political and social contentiousness — recent judicial contests throughout the nation have been marked by incivility and partisanship.  Indeed, some responsible commentators have questioned the appropriateness of several instances of campaign conduct by both challengers and incumbents in recent contested judicial elections here in Maryland.  Nationwide, civic groups, bar associations and organizations such as The National Center for State Courts have promoted efforts to insure campaign conduct by judges and judicial aspirants and their supporters appropriate to the judicial function. To date 23 states have adopted new forms of judicial campaign oversight.   Maryland is one of 15 states that have created Judicial Campaign Conduct Committees.

During the 2006 election, in Maryland’s eight judicial circuits, there were thirty-five candidates (including incumbents and challengers) for election to the Circuit Court. Twenty-five of those candidates – 71 percent – signed the Candidate Acknowledgement Form, agreed to abide by the MDJCCC standards. MDJCCC played an important role of supporting and promoting respect for judicial officers. It raised awareness, provided a forum, elevated discussions and even changed behavior.

MDJCCC is a volunteer organization.  Its members have broad experience in law, business, politics, journalism, government service and other civic activities.  They appreciate the uniqueness of the judicial office and the need to preserve its reputation for fairness and impartiality.  MDJCCC’s commitment is to promote public education about the role of judges, and to improve the level of public discourse in judicial campaigns.

MDJCCC underscores two important aspects of its role:  MDJCCC is an unofficial body.   The role envisioned by MDJCCC does not purport to duplicate that of the Judicial Ethics Committee, the Attorney Grievance Commission or any other body that governs judicial or attorney misconduct.  Nor will MDJCCC’s activities affect in any way the official responsibilities of those bodies. Indeed, it cannot.  MDJCCC has no formal authority. It cannot proscribe or censure with the force of law. Such influence as MDJCCC may have will stem only from the public’s respect for its integrity, objectivity and representativeness.

Furthermore, MDJCCC does not, and will not, express any view on the wisdom of contested judicial elections. That question is appropriately left to public debate and to determination by the Legislature. MDJCCC believes that its credibility depends in substantial part on its absolute neutrality on that issue. Indeed, the private views of the members of MDJCCC vary widely on the subject. So long as trial judges are elected in Maryland, however, MDJCCC’s purpose is to do what it can to insure that those elections are conducted in a manner that promotes respect for the integrity and legitimacy of the bench.

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Maryland Judicial Campaign Conduct Committee, Inc. 
P.O. Box 10427 Baltimore, Maryland 21209
committee@mdjccc.org

www.mdjccc.org