Money and Judges

Judge Chuck Anderson says he is not going to accept campaign contributions from attorneys or political action groups during his primary for Superior Court. There is a whole section about 'judicial independence' on his website, which talks about how he would like to try to not accept donations from attorneys who may have an interest before him. I checked out Adam Stein and Alan Baddour's websites, but I could not find if they were doing the same thing or not. They might be, but I could not tell from their websites.

As a law student interested in politics, the discussion on the website got me thinking about how judicial races should be much different than races those for the other two branches. After the Abramoff scandal broke, I think the American public is much more atuned to what might motivate our leaders other than their civic virtue. Now I champion that kind of questioning of our legislatures and executives, letting this inherent skepticism seep into the courtroom would be a catastrophe. How could we ever say a matter was fairly adjudicated when you are questioning the motivation of those at the helm?

I am not questioning the character of every judge out there who takes contributions from those who appear before them, but on Anderson's website it mentions how the appearance of fairness is as important as actual fairness. A judge must be the picture of impartiality.

But I have questions (hence the posting). In this day of high-dollar politics, do we need legislation to make this kind of commitment apply to all judges? Would that legislation be possible considering you would have to speculate about who would appear in front of which judge in the future?

Sticking with the themes of impartiality and full disclosure, I must say that I am friends with Amon Anderson, the Judge's son. But when I heard about this i thought it was intersting, and I just wanted to know what everyone thought on the subject and applaud Judge Anderson for his commitment to an impartial judiciary.



Actually, there is already a program in place, called the NC Public Campaign Fund, which allows judicial candidates for state appellate and state supreme court to avoid taking special interest money to finance their campaigns. Currently, North Carolina is the only state in the US that provides a public financing option for judicial candidates. This model program, established in 2002, provides public money for judicial candidates who agree to strict spending limits. Candidates must qualify for the program by raising numerous small donations ($10-$500) from at least 350 individuals from across NC. The NC Public Campaign Fund is generated through a $3 check-off on the NC state tax form (please say "YES" to this box on your state form to support public financing for our judicial candidates!), and through mandatory surcharges on attorneys ($50 additional state bar dues that go to the Fund). The argument for asking attorneys in particular to contribute to the Fund relates to your point--that attorneys have a vested interest in fair and impartial courts, since they are the folks who come before judges to plead cases, and they are the only people who can actually become judges.

In 2004, 12 of the 16 candidates for appellate and supreme court took advantage of the public financing program, including 4 of the 5 winners. This year, 13 out of the 17 candidates have indicated that they plan to utilize the public financing program. Candidates that have used the fund report that it makes running for judge much simpler--they aren't forced to declare their positions on "hot-button" issues in order to access special interest donations--and they get to spend much more time talking to average folks as they gather the 350+ small donations, and much less time on the phone courting big-money donors. The availability of the Fund has greatly decreased the percentage of private donations from attorneys to judicial campaigns--down from 70% in 2002 to just 11% in 2004, when public financing first became available to judicial candidates in NC.

To learn more about the judicial public financing program and why it's so important to support it, go to

Elizabeth Waugh-Stewart
(I am the Deputy Director at Democracy North Carolina, just for full disclosure...)

For clarity, Chuck Anderson is not eligible to participate in the Public Campaign Fund because he is a Superior Court candidate (not appellate or supreme court). This is unfortunate, as he is obviously committed to the principles of fair elections. I would love to see a public financing option available for local judicial candidates in Orange County.

In fact, Chapel Hill has considered local public financing for its mayoral and Town Council races in the past--but since local public financing programs have to be approved by the General Assembly, and the very powerful, very wealthy Homeowners and Realtors' PACs lobbied hard against the bill, it died in the legislature in 2003. Why don't those PACs want local public financing? Because they give the VAST majority of private money to candidates in local elections, and then expect those candidates to promote growth and development, often at the expense of the environment and quality of life. In the 2001 mayoral race, for example, the development community invested heavily in Lee Pavao's "pro-growth" bid for mayor, providing 1 in every 3 major donations to his campaign.

Democracy NC is hoping that local public financing will be re-introduced in the legislature in the wake of some of the current campaign finance scandals, but legislators need to hear from local residents who support public money being available for mayoral, council AND judicial candidates in Orange County.

Elizabeth Waugh-Stewart

This raises some very interesting questions worth discussion. I'd be more interested if it hadn't been raised by an interested party, but still -- it's an important issue.

Judge Anderson is in, perhaps, the best position to answer the question of how accepting the money of attorneys who may later have business before the court affects the "appearance of fairness," "actual fairness," and "impartiality" in a judge's courtroom.

Judge Anderson is the only candidate in the field who has actually taken money from attorneys in a contested race for judge that he won. Specifically, in 1996 when he was first elected:

I've only included the pre-primary report, and there's $5,000 + in there from unidentified "aggregated individual contributors," but several of the named contributors are attorneys who appear in court in Orange and Chatham Counties. There's no way to know how many in the "aggregate" are attorneys.

Does Judge Anderson believe the "appearance of fairness", "actual fairness," or "impartiality" were affected in his courtroom because he took the money of attorneys who may have later had business in his court? I don't know anyone who would call into question Judge Anderson's judgment because of his donors in the 1996 race, but perhaps Judge Anderson knows something I don't.

He's certainly the only one in this race who _would_ have first-hand knowledge of how the nexus of money and politics affects the courtroom. I very much hope it hasn't had a negative effect!



I want to make it clear that I'm not accusing Judge Anderson of anything. I know him to be an honorable and forthright judge. I also know him to be, after sitting across from him at a bar association dinner, an engaging and intellectually curious person. I like Judge Anderson, and therefore I should, perhaps, have been less oblique about my point in the preceding post.

My point is that given that judges are servants of the law in a way that other elected representatives are not (but, perhaps, should be). As a result, there's very little room for a judge to corrupt the process, especially in our district. Therefore, I think that the question of who donates to a judicial candidate is not terribly relevant, so long as those donations are transparent.

In this context, I think Judge Anderson's declaration is mostly a political maneuver without a lot of meaning in the real world. (It's, of course, a political race, and such maneuvers should be expected.) I hoped to make that point by pointing out that Judge Anderson had taken attorneys' money in the past, and was not corrupted by it.

It should also be noted that plenty of people routinely have business before the court who aren't attorneys but are their clients, and so a ban on attorney money would address only part of the problem if there is one.

Again, I want to stress that I believe Judge Anderson is an honorable man, and has been an uncorrupted and worthy judge. I should have said that more explicitly. My oblique way of pointing out this fact, by using Judge Anderson's own campaign finance documents, may have inadvertently left the impression that I thought Judge Anderson had done wrong. The very opposite was my point -- Judge Anderson has been uncorrupted despite having received money from attorneys in his contested election.

I have no reason to think that Judge Anderson has been anything but an honorable judge worthy of his office. I have no reason to think that, and in fact I do not think it.

I should have been more direct about this, and less coy.


p.s. I think I'm up to a dozen apologies on by now. Do I win a t-shirt or something?

Ah, the classic "I'm going to infer something inappropriate, then back off it after I've already planted the seed" OP apology.

In a judicial race I'm working on, we issued a call for a voluntary spending limit. One of the candidates said he'd do it only if the incumbent agreed, and the incumbent said it was either "use only your own money" or "the sky's the limit." Hmph.

I didn't infer anything of the kind Chris. I specifically stated that attorney money _hasn't_ affected Judge Anderson in the first message. Therefore I think it's curious that he's suddenly swearing it off.

My second post wasn't meant to be an apology but a clarification. (I do call it an apology at the end, but that was to lighten things up. I'm still feeling bad about the whole terrorist thing.)

I wrote that clarification because I'd received an e-mail from a friend who's an attorney who thought I was arguing that attorney money _did_ affect judges, specifically Judge Anderson, and that this wasn't fair to Judge Anderson. I realized that I had not been direct enough, that I shouldn't have tried to indirectly point out the political dimension by raising (what I thought to be) the absurd but nevertheless inescapably logical conclusion. I thought people would immediately dismiss the absurd proposition, and then immediately ask themselves what other reason Judge Anderson might have to swear off attorney money. But my friend's e-mail made me realize that some people would miss the whole point of the post if I didn't go back and make it clear.

So, Chris, because you're having a hard time stacking the blocks on this one, and think I've been backtracking, I'll spell it out one last time, as clearly and simply and as slowly as possible:

1. Judge Anderson has sworn off attorney money in the 2006 race for superior court.
2. But Judge Anderson, in his one and only contested race, for district court judge, took attorney money.
3. Judge Anderson is an honorable judge, and as I put it in the _first_ message, "I don't know anyone who would call into question Judge Anderson's judgment because of his donors in the 1996 race ...."
4. The last part of that sentence was, "...but perhaps Judge Anderson knows something I don't." This was to point out that something must have happened between 1996 and 2006 to change Judge Anderson's way of thinking. To my mind, there are two posibilities, one of which can be dismissed out of hand, and one of which is likely the explanation:


-- Judge Anderson's decision to refuse attorney money is likely the outcome of realizing that one particular candidate, who has essentially been running since late last year, is planning to spend an extraordinary amount of money on his race, according to the rumor mill. This particular race may go down as one of the most expensive in Orange and Chatham counties ever, with the exception of the U.S. House races. I believe that Judge Anderson knows he's not going to catch up to this particular candidate (and probably some others who are raising money and trying to compete with the other guy), and so rather than try to run the money race and lose, he's taking a play out of the basic political playbook: turn your weakness into a strength, make the money itself an issue, and portray yourself on the side of the angels.

Is this clear enough? Are we done now? Please?

Touchy, much?

But yes, Duncan, I'm satisfied. I don't like it when anyone (and if you want to be fair, I am guilty of this, too) has to use a second or third post to clarify improper insinuations in the first. Whether anyone intends it or not, it DOES seem like backtracking, and it's already put the original idea in someone's mind. I just think we all ought to be more careful with the things we say -- particularly on a site with as much clout in the public and in the media as OP. I didn't intend to offend, and I'm sorry if I did, but the original point stands.

Duncan, you say: "Judge Anderson has firsthand knowledge of the corrupting influence of attorney money on a judge's race." Then you dismiss it as absurd. I don't think it's all that absurd.

I think that anybody who has been involved in the justice system knows of at least one judge and one race where attorney money has had a corrupting influence (or elected a judge who was corrupted already. Some of us know of several.

Also, Chris... I think that it's pretty clear that Duncan is not careful with the things he says. People realize that, and his credibility and the weight of his opinion plummets correspondingly with the number of apologies and clarifications he has to issue.

I'll just start this and hope I don't end up giving Chris or anyone else the impression I'm backtracking.

(In the interest of full disclosure and all that) I am publicly supporting Chuck Anderson and Mike Patrick for Superior Court Judge. I very much have dogs in this fight. I am supporting them for several reasons: foremost, because - of all the candidates - they are two of the three who are head and shoulders the most qualified in the field (Adam Stein being the third). And I think Chuck's position, applied by everyone, would probably be a good thing, if only for its beneficial effect on the public's perceptions of the Court system.

But there is another, equally important issue, tied to the first one (qualifications): the matter of balance on the bench. When the voters take to the polls next month many of them, too busy to educate themselves, will see (and decide based upon) the word "incumbent" beside the names of two of the candidates. Hardly anything could be more misleading. If our Governor appointed all ACC basketball referees, and 90% were Duke graduates, our howls would be heard in Indianapolis. Easley has made abundantly clear, by his deeds, his belief that no lawyer is qualified to be a Superior Court Judge in this District unless he is a Prosecutor.

When faced, last year, with one such appointment, he flatly refused to select one from a number of highly qualified lawyers (e.g., Lunsford Long) and District Court Judges (e.g., Joe Buckner). It was only after a Prosecutor offered himself that Easley made the appointment. Much more recently the Governor had another vacancy to fill and, again, a range of candidates which included the three I've already mentioned, above. Those three, between them, have years and years of experience (both criminal AND civil), maturity, integrity and the well-earned trust of the community. Prosecutor Easley passed over all three to further stack the deck and appointed another Prosecutor (who is, by the way, a very decent guy and, in another ten years or so, would probably have the seasoning to be a great Superior Court Judge). And THAT'S how "incumbent" will appear next to two of the names on the ballot in May.

They are not true incumbents and, unless the voters believe litigants should be required to play against a stacked deck, they would be well advised to learn enough about the candidates to decide who they want presiding over their fate should they end up in an Orange or Chatham courtroom.

Barry Winston

Chris and Ginny, you would be lucky to have as much knowledge, passion, and insight about local issues as Duncan does. Feel free to disagree with his opinions, but there's no need to inpugn his logic or his character. It only makes you look snotty by comparison.

I'm not impugning Duncan's character, Ruby. That's what HE was doing to someone else, no matter how inadvertently, with his original post.

I'm sure Duncan's a good guy, and I freely admit that he knows more about local issues than I do, but what's wrong with suggesting to people that they ought to be careful before they post? I believe Duncan 100 percent when he says he didn't intend to attack Judge Anderson, but I also know that -- by his own admission -- this is not the first time this has happened. I was merely pointing out that it's hard to take something back once you've said it. Even if you apologize.

This has nothing to do with Duncan's knowledge of local issues and everything to do with the etiquette of posting on a message board. And in that aspect, given your -- yes -- _snotty_ insistence that I should basically go eff myself, you clearly have a lot to learn as well.

In the interest of the full-disclosure game, I am 100 percent behind Judge Anderson.

Mr. Murrell: I appreciate the clarification, because it certainly did appear that you were very clearly insinuating something more about Anderson's time on the bench. Given that you failed to acknowledge your link to the Baddour campaign, which you have previously represented on OP, I wasn't very clear on where you were coming from. Thanks for clearing it up.

I disagree with you about the worth of such campaign finance standards in judicial races. If money didn't have the potential to have a corrupting influence on the courts, the state would not have made the move to public financing of statewide judicial campaigns. Clearly it can be an issue at the statewide level, and efforts to confront the issue at the local level should be applauded.

But more importantly, I strongly disagree with your declaration that this self-imposed regulation is pure politics. I've talked to Judge Anderson about his decision, and I can assure you that this not merely a political maneuver.

Judge Anderson enjoys a great deal of support from the Orange and Chatham legal community, and were his motives purely political, it would be far more beneficial to turn that widespread support into campaign cash.

Trust me; I tried to talk him into doing just that.

But this isn't about politics for the Judge – it's about doing what he strongly believes to be the right thing.

And as far as your comment about Judge Anderson being "the only one in this race who would have first-hand knowledge of how the nexus of money and politics affects the courtroom," I think you inadvertently hit the nail on the head.

Judge Anderson is the ONLY candidate for Superior Court with more than a year's experience on the bench. And in his 10 years as a district court judge, Chuck Anderson has become convinced that the only way to maintain (in appearance and in reality) an independent judiciary is to avoid such potential conflicts. As someone pointed out above, anyone closely involved with or immersed in the judiciary can see that money can undercut the independence (or perceived independence) of the courts. Judge Anderson's unparalleled experience has led him to believe that the only way to counteract that influence is by refusing to take money from lawyers who could practice in front of him. Doesn't appear to be anything political about it.

And even though this policy is going to limit his ability to raise funds, I personally find his commitment to an independent judiciary quite admirable.

Ruby, care to explain your comment?

Though i do not like having my integrity questioned, exam prep has me focused on bigger issues. That said, thanks Elizabeth for all the great info on NC's judicial funding attempts.

But as always more information yields only more questions for me, and I am hoping our collective intellect can get a grasp on the situation.

1) What were the politics around the funding program only including Ct. of Appeals and N.C. Supreme Ct? Was it the GA being tight-pocketed? or was it the general trepidation that comes with new programs? and if it was the second then what is the timetable for expansion?

2) How do you measure effectiveness with a program like this? I could see how you might do it with legislative elections, but how do you do it with judicial races. I think this is important because I did some higher education advocacy down at the GA last summer, and the mode for budgetting was basically slash and burn if there was no tactile evidence for keeping a program.

Sorry if the post is incoherent, but I think a race as competitive as the one in question shows how money could matter, and I hope i made my previous point as to why it should not.

Just expressing my opinion, Ginny. I think it was clear, but folks are free to disagree (as usual).

People on OP lament the lack of student involvement, but you have at least 4 interested young people on this thread alone and instead make discouraging (and rude) remarks to us about how little we know. Hm...

I wanted to respond to your questions...thanks for asking them and for getting the conversation back to the topic of how judicial races are funded...

In answer to your first question:
Unfortunately, there is no timetable for expansion of the public financing program for judicial candidates to local races. State-level judicial campaign reform was the path of public financing that had broadest support among reformers, inside and outside legislature -- selection of judges was a problem that needed to get addressed anyway and public financing, and then nonpartisan elections, provided the mechanism. It is much simpler to develop regulations and criteria for statewide races than local ones -- amount of money needed to qualify, how much given for candidates, etc. District and Superior court districts vary greatly in size, wealth, etc. The cost of the program was a consideration, and so was having a limited number of offices covered by the Fund; there are a huge number of lower court judges. State-level judicial reform was pitched inside the legislature as a pilot program for public financing and a way to address the awkward problem of judges/justices taking increasingly large amounts from parties involved in cases in their courts....

As for the second question, there are many ways to measure the success of the public financing program, including:
** use of nonpartisan voter guide --- which will take time, as new tool for voters; immediate reactions have been very positive
** participation of candidates -- program attracts candidate to try to qualify, to voluntarily give up their chance to swamp an opponent with money, to rely less on small circle of donors and go for public/broader
** program is not biased toward incumbents or one race/sex/party --participation is broad
** candidates who qualify can run viable campaigns -- not get crushed by those outside program; amount and delivery of rescue money works; initial amount is sufficient to mount a viable campaign
** special (or narrow) interest money given to campaign is replaced with public money -- the special interest money may go somewhere else, but at least the certified candidates do not need to rely on it; they have
independent source of money
** stability of funding -- candidates know there is enough for them and levels are sufficient to keep up with changing politics...

Hope this helps...Please keep asking questions!

Elizabeth Waugh-Stewart

Thanks for this thread on judicial campaign financing and Elizabeth thanks for your informative post. I agree that campaign financing is crucially important in judicial - and all - elections. I'm actively supporting and helping Adam Stein for Superior Court judge because I believe his life's work makes clear that he has a brilliant legal mind, an uncompromising sense of justice and extensive and exemplary court experience. Adam also has the temperment and knowledge to make fair and informed decisions based on the many aspects of law.

His long-time support for a better campaign finance system just furthers my support for Adam. I think it is noteworthy that Adam has been a supporter of Democracy South, one of the main advocates for the legisation establishing a public financing option for NC appelate courts (along with the NC Center for Voter Education, on who's board I serve).

For his judicial campaign, Adam's website ( notes that he will not accept PAC contributions, will not accept contributions of more than $100 from lawyers practicing in the district and will support broadening North Carolina's public financing legislation so that the program includes trial court candidates.

I hope folks find this information useful and will consider voting for Adam in the May 2 primary (early voting starts April 13). Adam and his wife Jane have been pillars in our community in so many ways, such as actively creating affordable housing, supporting civil rights and economic justice and doing it in a humble and private manner. (For instance, how many people even know of Adam's extensive role in overturning the Darryl Hunt death penalty conviction, despite all the publicity surrounding that case? I didn't until a month ago.) And their three children, Eric, Josh and Gerda all have dedicated their professional lives in similarly remarkable ways, a tribute to the values that Jane and Adam instilled in them.

I don't think there's any doubt that Adam will make a great judge for Orange and Chatham counties. I'm honored just to have the opportunity to vote for him and hope y'all will vote for him too.

Thanks again for this thread -

I am a lawyer practicing in Judicial District 15B (Orange and Chatham Counties). I am Judge Baddour's neighbor and campaign treasurer and am supporting him for one of the two superior court seats that are in question in this election cycle. I have been watching the posts on this site with some interest and have not been moved to weigh in until now. As an attorney, I feel that all this talk about not accepting campaign contributions from attorneys misses the mark. Now, truth be told, I believe that there must be a better way of selecting judges than making them run for election. They seem to me to be different than most other elected officials, and too often the campaigns seem to become a “who's going to be tougher on crime” contest, which I frankly find annoying. But, that is really a discussion for another day, because right now we do elect our judges in North Carolina, so back to the “no attorney money” issue. While it may sound nice at first, what does it really mean? As Duncan (my husband) has pointed out, attorneys are not the only people with interests before the court—in fact, folks with the real interests before the court are the folks that the attorneys are representing. Why is attorney money so different from any other money? The reality is that most contributors are potential litigants in a case. If accepting attorney money somehow compromises a judge's integrity, then, it seems to me, that the logical conclusion is to assert that accepting any money compromises a judge's integrity. I want to say that I do not believe this to be the case in general and in particular in this race. I know several of the candidates personally and the others by reputation. I believe that all the candidates would work to maintain impartiality as judges and that none of them would allow a party's status as “contributor” or “non-contributor” to enter into their rulings.

With this in mind, I found the last post pointing out that Adam Stein is not accepting contributions of more than $100 from attorneys practicing in the district particularly interesting. For those who do not know, superior court judges rove. While they are elected in our district, they hold court, routinely, in other districts. Usually these are neighboring districts like Wake, Durham, Alamance, Person, etc. It is likely that trial lawyers from these districts will appear before our judges at some point. A quick check of the State Board of Elections website shows that Mr. Stein has accepted two $1000 donations from lawyers in Wake County. I, frankly, am not bothered by this in and of itself. However, I am bothered by Mr. Stein making an issue of not accepting donations of more than $100 from attorneys in the district when it is common knowledge, at least among attorneys, that superior court judges preside in districts other than their own. I am confused about the distinction between accepting contributions in excess of $100 from attorneys in the district and those out of the district. Again, I want to stress that I see nothing wrong with accepting donations from attorneys. What I don't like is all the posturing and inconsistencies around this issue as I believe it is misleading and distracting.

For what it is worth, Judge Baddour has stated publicly in several forums his belief that the relevant question is not the occupation of a donor, but the disclosure of such donation. He does not believe that any of the candidates, himself included, would be impartial based on a campaign contribution. However, he believes that the appearance of fairness and the integrity of the judicial process are best served by full disclosure of contributions of attorneys and/or parties that appear before him (he is, of course, disclosing contributions to the State Board of Elections, as all candidates are required to do, in accordance with state law). If a party or attorney before Judge Baddour had made a contribution, he would bring it to the attention of the parties, and then determine if recusal was appropriate. He would not limit that inquiry to attorney-contributors, but would also make the inquiry as it related to party-contributors.

Just a quick correction. In my final paragraph, second sentence, I meant to say that Judge Baddour believes that he, and all the candidates, would be impartial regardless of campaign contributions.


Community Guidelines

By using this site, you agree to our community guidelines. Inappropriate or disruptive behavior will result in moderation or eviction.


Content license

By contributing to OrangePolitics, you agree to license your contributions under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License.

Creative Commons License

Zircon - This is a contributing Drupal Theme
Design by WeebPal.