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IBA creates PAC option for judicial campaign donors

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After a landmark ruling from the nation’s highest court, the Indianapolis Bar Association has adopted an alternative to direct judicial campaign contributions for those interested in donating to candidates vying for the Marion County bench.

The IBA’s governing board unanimously approved a plan last week that gives attorneys an alternative method of supporting judicial campaigns while eliminating direct contact with any individual candidate they might one day appear before. The bar association formed a task force earlier this year to examine how it might address this topic following the Supreme Court of the United States ruling last summer in Caperton v. AT Massey Coal Co., Inc., 129 S. Ct. 2252, where the court examined how judges should recuse themselves when faced with litigants who’d donated to their judicial campaigns.

IBA members formed a Caperton Task Force to study this issue, and last week presented a plan to the board of governors for consideration. The plan calls for the creation of a political action committee named Attorneys for an Impartial Bench (AIB), and would be made up of donations from the county’s practicing bar that want to contribute to Marion Circuit and Superior candidates.

Since the county operates on a slating system for the primary and those individuals’ names are then placed on the November ballot, the AIB money would be distributed equally among all on the ballot following the primary and at least 30 days before the general election. The contributions aren’t earmarked for any specific candidates or any political affiliations, and “minimal” administrative costs would be taken out of the pooled contributions before the donation occurs.

“We believe this is an appropriate response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s recognition of problems associated with campaign contributions to the judiciary,” said IBA president and task force member Christine Hickey, an attorney at Rubin & Levin. “We are attempting to fulfill the Bar’s responsibility to advance the fair and impartial administration of justice. The ongoing mission of the organized bar is to instill public trust and confidence in the judicial system.”

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Anthony Metz, who chaired the task force, said the three goals of the effort are to prevent the appearance that justice is for sale, to promote public confidence in the profession, and to provide attorney members with a choice for judicial campaign contributions.
 

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