Campaign Contributions or Protection Money?

Some criminal court judges and judicial candidates are more gracious about it than others but they all invariably ask criminal defense attorneys for campaign contributions and other forms of assistance with their campaigns. I’m glad to help some, not so much others, but regardless of my personal feelings, when a sitting criminal court judge personally asks me for money or some other form of assistance, it feels compulsory, regardless of how graciously the request is phrased.

I’ve learned to accept that campaign contributions are a cost of doing business.  They can really add up, though, so I try to determine how many candidates I’ll be supporting, set the amounts, and budget them early in the election season.

A typical judicial campaign donation for a solo criminal defense attorney in Travis County is $100. I’ve given more; I’ve given less. It usually depends on how big a fan I am and, more importantly, how flush or lean my finances are at the time. Whatever amount I decide to give, the candidates are typically appreciative and gracious in their acceptance, with one notable exception…

In a previous election cycle, a judge who I’ll call “Judge X” called me up personally on two separate occasions asking for campaign contributions. On each occasion, I agreed but then Judge X named an amount that was higher than I was comfortable paying. I expressed concerns about the amount but was strong-armed and ultimately agreed to the amount requested. Altogether, Judge X got more than twice the “contribution” I was willing to pay that year. I heard from other colleagues that this experience was far from unusual with Judge X.

While Judge X is definitely the exception to the general rule, his conduct really only aggravated an inherent but ordinarily mild feeling of corruption in a system of an elected judiciary.

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