The following resources provide guidelines for judicial officers and attorneys as they engage in campaigns for judicial office.

Judicial Ethics Course Requirement

The California Supreme Court requires candidates for judicial office to complete an online judicial campaign ethics course offered by the Judicial Council Center for Judicial Education and Research (CJER), with certain exceptions described more fully below.  Access to the course is available here

  • Introduction by the Chief Justice

Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye conveys the significance of the required course in these introductory remarks about its purpose and development:

“In 2013, the Supreme Court of California, pursuant to recommendations made by the Commission for Impartial Courts, developments in the law, and changes in the American Bar Association’s Model Rules for judicial conduct, adopted several revisions to the Code of Judicial Ethics.

One addition is the requirement that a candidate for judicial office, whether a judge or a lawyer, complete a judicial campaign ethics course approved by the court.

The court adopted this requirement to promote and enhance public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary and to provide guidance on the ethical obligations and responsibilities of those running for judicial office.

We asked an expert group of justices, judges, and lawyers to develop this course, and after careful review found it to be a useful tool for every candidate. The material is designed to give you a basic understanding of the applicable canons, statutes, rules, and regulations to help you run a campaign consistent with the Code of Judicial Ethics, and in the case of lawyers, with the Rules of Professional Conduct.

The course also includes a set of additional resources for you to use if you have questions. I invite you to refer to the resources while taking this course and to have them handy for you and those involved in assisting you during your campaign.

As you’ll see, some of the ethical rules and requirements are intuitive. For example, a judge running for re-election can’t use court resources to help with the campaign. And judicial candidates must not misrepresent their qualifications or those of their opponent.

Other requirements respond to more technical issues; for example, what kind of contributions are you permitted to accept? What records must be kept, and in what form?

Whatever issue arises, this course is intended to provide you with the information you need to understand your responsibilities, those of your staff, and those of your opponent.

As you know, a judicial election campaign differs substantially from a partisan race — just as the role of a judge differs greatly from that of an elected legislator or executive officer. The judicial campaign you run is in some ways a good reminder of what those differences are.”

  • Who is Required to Take the Course?

Canon 5B(3) of the California Code of Judicial Ethics generally requires every candidate for judicial office to complete a judicial campaign ethics course approved by the Supreme Court.  However, this requirement does not apply to a judge who is unopposed for election and will not appear on the ballot unless the judge forms a campaign committee or solicits or receives campaign contributions.  This requirement also does not apply to appellate justices unless a justice forms a campaign committee or solicits or receives campaign contributions.

Rule 8.2(b) of the California Rules of Professional Conduct provides that a lawyer who is a candidate for judicial office shall comply with canon 5, including the judicial campaign ethics course requirement.

  • When Should the Course be Completed?

Canon 5B(3) also provides that a candidate for judicial office must complete the judicial campaign ethics course no earlier than one year before, or no later than 60 days after, the earliest of:

    • The filing of a declaration of intention by the candidate;
    • The formation of a campaign committee; or
    • The receipt of any campaign contribution.

If a judge appears on the ballot as a result of a petition indicating that a write-in campaign will be conducted for the office, the judge must complete the judicial campaign ethics course no later than 60 days after receiving the notice of the filing of the petition, the formation of a campaign committee, or the receipt of any campaign contribution, whichever is earliest.

Judicial Campaign Rules and Regulations

Canons 5A-D of the Code of Judicial Ethics specifically address the obligations of judges and candidates for judicial office.  Candidates should also review Canons 1, 2A, 2B, 3B(2), 3B(9), 3D(2), 3E(1), 3E(2), and 6D(9) for consideration of their application in judicial elections.

  • California Government Code

The following sections of the Government Code are relevant to judges and attorneys seeking judicial office:

    • 3205 (Solicitation from other officers or employees);
    • 8314(a) (Unlawful use of state resources);
    • 81002 (Legislative intent);
    • 84211 (Contents of campaign statements);
    • 84213 (Verification of campaign statements);
    • 84216 (Loans constituting contributions);
    • 84216.5 (Loans of campaign funds);
    • 84300 (Limitation on cash contribution or expenditure; In-kind contributions);
    • 84304 (Limitation on anonymous contributions);
    • 84305.5 (Slate mailers);
    • 85201 (Establishment of campaign contribution account);
    • 89513 (Use and restrictions on use of campaign funds);
    • 89514 (Expenditures of campaign funds that are not directly related to governmental purpose);
    • 89519 (Surplus funds; Costs of security system); and
    • 91000 (Penalties).
  • California Rules of Professional Conduct 5(a) and 8.2(b)
  • California Fair Political Practices Commission Regulations

The California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) has primary responsibility for the impartial and effective administration of the California Political Reform Act (Act) (Gov. Code §§ 81000-91014.), including the adoption of regulations that implement the Act.  Judicial candidates should become familiar with the entire body of regulations, but sections 18401, 18524, and 18525 are particularly relevant to issues that arise in judicial elections.

The FPPC also maintains an advice line through which any candidate for office, including judicial office, may seek informal advice regarding the obligations under the Act.

CJEO Opinions of Interest to Judicial Candidates

CJEO advises judges who are judicial candidates to exercise caution when accepting campaign contributions that originated as donations from court employees, in order to avoid violating limitations on solicitation and the prohibition on coercion.  The committee advises that a judge may accept a campaign contribution from a judicial political action committee of funds originating from another political action committee organized and funded by court employees, so long as there was no direct or indirect solicitation of the funds from the employees or from the employee political action committee, and there was no coercion.  The committee notes that coercion is less likely to occur when the identities of the court employees who made the original donation remain unknown to the judge.

CJEO provides guidance to trial court judges about their campaign contribution disclosure obligations during and following a judicial campaign.  The committee examines canon 3E(2)(b)(i) of the California Code of Judicial Ethics and Code of Civil Procedure section 170.1, subdivision (a)(9)(C), which require a trial court judge to disclose a campaign contribution of $100 or more from a party, lawyer, or law office or firm in a matter before the judge.  The committee advises that a judge also should disclose contributions of $100 or more from a witness or other person whose credibility the judge will evaluate.  Other campaign-related assistance, such as many smaller contributions from individual lawyers in a firm, certain indirect or third-party contributions, volunteer work for the judge’s campaign, and other relationships to the judge or campaign may also warrant disclosure.  In the opinion, the committee advises that disclosure must include the contributor’s or lender’s name, the amount and date of each contribution or loan, and the cumulative amount of the contributions or loans.  The disclosure must be made on the record and should not create an appearance that the judge is soliciting campaign contributions.  The campaign contribution disclosure obligation begins no later than one week after a judge receives the first campaign contribution and continues for at least two years after the judge is sworn in or receives the last contribution, whichever is later.

CJEO provides guidance on whether a presiding appellate court justice may, on behalf of other justices facing retention elections, solicit campaign endorsements from superior court presiding judges within the justice’s appellate district or ask the presiding judges to solicit endorsements from other trial court judges.  The committee advised that a judge may solicit endorsements on behalf of a candidate for judicial office, subject to certain limitations: (1) a judge may not solicit campaign contributions from certain subordinate judicial officers or state court personnel; and (2) if the judge solicits endorsements from anyone else, including other judges, the judge cannot use the prestige of judicial office in a manner that would reasonably be perceived as coercive.  A judge must also comply with other obligations within the California Code of Judicial Ethics, including that any solicitation of an endorsement or endorsements must promote judicial independence, integrity, and impartiality.  In most instances, these concerns do not prohibit an appellate court justice from soliciting endorsements from trial court judges.  The narrower question is whether a presiding justice may solicit campaign endorsements from trial court judges within his or her district, due to the presiding justice’s supervisory responsibilities related to and leadership position within the court, as well as his or her oversight over trial court decisions.  Concerns of coercion and potential harm to judicial independence, integrity, and impartiality prohibit a presiding justice from making a mass solicitation to the trial court presiding judges within his or her appellate district that includes a request that the presiding judges solicit their colleagues on the presiding justice’s behalf.

CJEO examines the language of canon 5 of the California Code of Judicial Ethics, which generally prohibits any political activities that create the appearance of political bias, and specifically prohibits public endorsements and personal solicitations for nonjudicial candidates or political parties.  Canon 5 also permits activities concerning the law and legal system improvement, so long as those activities are consistent with the code, including the general and specific prohibitions on political activities.  Given these prohibitions and permissions, the opinion provides guidance to judicial candidates on how to decide whether to (1) attend, (2) speak, or (3) appear as the guest of honor or receive an award at a political fundraising or endorsement event.  It also advises judges who are campaigning that they may be introduced and speak on their own behalf or on behalf of another candidate for judicial office, so long as they do not commit to a position on an issue that is likely to come before the courts and they do not endorse or solicit funds for a candidate for nonjudicial office or a political organization.  Finally, the opinion advises judicial candidates who have accepted a personal invitation to attend a political fundraising or endorsement event to assess the likelihood that their attendance will be known to the event organizers and possibly used to promote the event. If so, judges are advised to make reasonable efforts to ensure that their judicial title will not be used for promotion. Such efforts may include informing promoters in advance of restrictions or reviewing promotional materials.

CJEO discusses the statute that prohibits trial court judges from hearing cases where one of the lawyers in the case contributed more than $1,500 to the judge’s campaign.  The opinion concludes that disqualification is not mandated by the statute if a lawyer in the proceeding practices law with other lawyers who, collectively, have made campaign contributions exceeding $1,500 or when a lawyer in the proceeding practices in a private law firm which has made a campaign contribution that exceeds $1,500.  In either circumstance, however, the judge must consider whether those aggregated or law firm contributions might nevertheless cause a reasonable person to doubt the judge’s impartiality for purposes of discretionary disqualification.  (Cal. Code Civ. Pro., §§ 170.1, subd. (a)(6)(A) & (a)(9)(A).)

Other Authorities and Resources

  • Commission on Judicial Performance (CJP)

CJP provides the following compendium which summarizes its public decisions and private discipline for misconduct involving political or campaign activity, organized by the following topics: (1) Improper Support or Opposition – Non-Judicial Candidates of Political Parties; (2) Violations of the Political Reform Act; (3) Knowing or Reckless Misrepresentations About Self or Opponent; (4) Use of Public or Court Resources for Campaign; (5) Failure to Disclose Campaign Contributions; and (6) Miscellaneous.

Judicial Misconduct Involving Political or Campaign Activity (Commission on Judicial Performance and Supreme Court Cases) Rev. 4/2020

  • California Judges Association (CJA)

CJA publishes the following pamphlet in which its Committee on Judicial Ethics answers common questions about applying the Code of Judicial Ethics to judicial elections with the goal of raising awareness about how candidates may participate in the election process while also complying with the code.

Ethics in Judicial Elections: A Guide to Judicial Election Campaigning under the California Code of Judicial Ethics (2021-22)

  • National Center for State Courts (NCSC), Center for Judicial Ethics

In 2009, the United States Supreme Court held that campaign contributions having “a significant and disproportionate influence” on the election of a justice on the state court carried a “sufficiently substantial” risk of actual bias to require that justice’s disqualification.  (Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co. (2009) 556 U.S. 868.)  The following NCSC publication describes whether states have adopted new disqualification rules based on Caperton and on an earlier ABA model rule proposing disqualification based on a certain percentage or amount of campaign contribution.

Judicial Disqualification Based on Campaign Contributions (2016)