CARSON CITY — County and state judges who draw no opponents in next year’s elections will be prohibited from seeking campaign contributions under a new rule added to the Code of Judicial Conduct by the Nevada Supreme Court last week.
Municipal judges will have to abide by a different rule because municipal races have different filing periods than state and county races. Municipal Court judicial candidates will be allowed to accept contributions up to 120 days before the primary election. But if, at the closing of the filing period, a Municipal Court candidate is unopposed, no additional contributions may be accepted.
The Nevada Supreme Court justices promised legislators during the legislative session that they would prohibit uncontested judges from seeking contributions if lawmakers passed a bill moving up the election filing period for judicial candidates.
Legislators passed Assembly Bill 505, which moved the filing period for most judges to the first two weeks of January. Before that change, candidates for judgeships filed for office at the same time as all other candidates, during the first two weeks of May.
During a legislative hearing earlier this year, Justice Mark Gibbons testified that 60 percent of judicial candidates in last year’s election ran without opposition. Because the filing period has been in May, three months before the primary election, judges had to seek contributions early in the year on the assumption they would draw opponents, Gibbons said.
District Judge Michael Cherry raised $500,000 in contributions last year, but he did not draw any opposition in his run for the Supreme Court.
In the new canon, approved Wednesday by the court, justices said that uncontested candidates “need only one vote” to win an election and that they do not need to seek contributions.
“Judges have been interested in reform for years,” Gibbons said. “This is a huge first step. The recent media attention brought it to the forefront.”
The Los Angeles Times ran stories in the summer of 2006 that were critical of Nevada judges for taking campaign contributions from lawyers who had cases before their courts.
In the new canon, the Supreme Court also mentions its effort to change how judges are elected in Nevada.
Under Senate Joint Resolution 2, judges would be chosen by the governor after candidates were reviewed and ranked by a selection committee. Then they would be re-elected in a yes-or-no retention election.
The process is designed to reduce the need for political contributions.
Legislators in 2009 have to pass the resolution again, and voters must approve it on the 2010 election ballot.