The following resources provide guidelines for judicial officers and attorneys as they launch a campaign 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 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 Expedited Opinion 2021-040 – Acceptance of Campaign Contributions Donated by a Court Employee Political Action Committee to a Judicial Political Action Committee [advising 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]
- CJEO Formal Opinion 2019-013 – Disclosure of Campaign Contributions [providing guidance to trial court judges about their campaign contribution disclosure obligations during and following a judicial campaign]
- CJEO Oral Advice Summary 2018-026 – Soliciting Endorsements from Trial Court Judges for Other Appellate Court Justices Subject to Retention Elections [advising as to 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]
- CJEO Formal Opinion 2016-008 – Attending Political Fundraising or Endorsement Events [providing guidance to judicial candidates on how to decide whether to attend, speak, or appear as the guest of honor or receive an award at a political fundraising or endorsement event]
- CJEO Formal Opinion 2013-003 – Disqualification Based on Judicial Campaign Contributions from a Lawyer in the Proceeding [discussing 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 and concluding 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]
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)