Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein today officially banned his public defenders from contributing money to judges whom they practice before. It's a continuation from the controversy regarding prosecutor (and Sunrise commissioner) Sheila Alu's fundraising for Judge Elijah Williams, and I think it's good policy. Here's the email he sent to all PD employees:
From: Howard Finkelstein
Sent: Monday, September 21, 2009 12:36 PM
To: All Users
As you are probably aware, another election cycle is upon us. There are several judges up for re-election. I believe that mixing money and politics into the office and more importantly into thecourtroom takes our focus off our mission, and compromises our obligation to provide conflict free counsel as well as the effective and zealous representation of our clients.
I feel that contributing to or campaigning for your assigned division judge is extremely problematic. It puts the attorney in a position of having to disclose that contribution or campaign work to the state and puts the judge in a position of disqualification. It also requires that you advise your client and as a result it can also put you in the very uncomfortable position of explaining to your client why you are supporting the person who is now seriously affecting his life including the threat of sending him or her to jail.
While I encourage those so inclined to donate or work for any campaign you want to I cannot allow you to be involved in the campaign of the judge you are practicing in front of. If you choose to do so I will transfer you to another division or reassign that particular case. I believe this is absolutely necessary to maintain a healthy, proper and ethical relationship that allows each and every one of us to be a zealous advocate for our clients without trying to serve two masters. Because the transfer of attorneys and cases can be disruptive to the office and unsettling to the clients I ask that you advise me ASAP if you are in any way involved in the re-election campaign of your assigned division judge or judges you practice in front of so that I can begin the transfer process.