Win or lose, Team Rosenthal has made a lasting difference in Broward judicial politics. The use of an ECO to blast opponent Jahra McLawrence may be distasteful, but not violative of the Canons or laws guiding judicial elections as currently written.
Simply put, ECO’s are the wave of the future, which is bad news for all judicial candidates, but especially for unpopular or abrasive incumbents, who suddenly look a lot more vulnerable than they ever did before. Upset the wrong well-heeled lawyer, litigant, or party boss, and a judge could find himself no longer protected by maximum campaign contribution limits, to use but one example. Even if Bar rules somehow apply to a vengeful, rich attorney, a non-lawyer spouse or other relative would be free to fund and direct the activities of an ECO, just as some suspect may have happened in Rosenthal v. McLawrence.
“The situation has progressed beyond where we are for oversight.”
That’s Michael Schneider, Executive Director of the JQC, who gave us a few minutes of his time on Thursday. He said the panel has looked at ECO’s in a limited context in the past, but nothing has ever risen to the level of probable cause. Schneider pointed out that partisanship directly contradicts “the essence of judicial elections,” but says the use of ECO’s, “a legislatively created creature,” appears “proper on its face.”
“Entities take on a life of their own,” he continued, adding “with these, there’s a lot of wriggle room.” And considering how courts vigilantly protect most forms of speech as “legitimate political expression,” Schneider doesn’t believe it makes much difference how closely related to a candidate or sitting judge an interested ECO funder may be. Unless the Canons are amended, or the judicial election laws changed, Schneider gave the distinct impression that judicial campaigns could be greatly impacted by ECO’s without JQC interference.
Of course, every case and campaign is different. The Rosenthal v. McLawrence example may not have pushed the boundaries far enough. A different set of facts may certainly cause more eyebrows to raise in Tallahassee in the future. But given Schneider’s analysis of the current rule-book, and the recent stay issued by the Fourth DCA benefitting the ECO ripping apart incumbent Phil Yacucci, it would seem Broward judicial politics just got a whole lot messier …
Coming Soon – Are Broward judges actively helping gubernatorial candidates behind the scenes?
Guardian/Cliff Richard sex abuse claim