The Courts and Election Financing in Montgomery County
Conversations about the justice system often understandably focus on the conduct of state and local police officers, but to understand the state of justice in America, we must look to the courts. Seeking justice through the courts can send middle class and poor citizens down an expensive dead-end hole. Unfair treatment in the courts can have serious long-term implications to citizens’ trust in public institutions.
In criminal matters, low income citizens have constitutional protections and a court appointed lawyer. In civil matters, should someone find themselves in the courts without a lawyer, they are at a severe disadvantage. Everyday injustice can be seen particularly in local civil courts, where a judge’s powers can go virtually unchecked for years with almost no oversight by local media. Some local judges are appointed for many years and some are elected. The ones that are elected at least get a review by a handful of informed voters. Once in office, judges operate in a shadow and serve how they please.
These cases can be seen in many counties including close to home. A few years ago, a mother lost her 3 children because a Montgomery County judge decided not to give her a protective order. This was not an isolated case – the same judge misjudged a case 10 years before this tragedy when he failed to protect young children. There is media coverage of egregious examples such as this, but in most cases local media is silent to the conduct of local judges.
Judges in criminal courts can pose even greater threats, of course. In October of 2014, Judge Mark Ciavarella, Jr. was sentenced to 28 years behind bars for literally selling kids to prisons for profit. There was no national outcry. This Judge issued 4,000 convictions within 5 years. Corruption in the judiciary eats away at the fabric of society. Eliminating corruption in the judiciary is essential for liberty.
Despite Montgomery County financial struggles, the All-Democrat Montgomery County Council enacted a law that would establish a public campaign financing fund in September 2014. Under the system, candidates would receive matching funds in proportion to small donations. Candidates for county executive and council can leverage contributions of up to $150 through a system of matching public funds. Candidates opting to enter the system will be prohibited from taking corporate or PAC contributions. For example, a candidate for county executive who collected $50 donations from three people would receive $900 in matching money. Funding for county executive candidates are limited to $1.5 million (primary and general elections), $500,000 for at-large council candidates and $125,000 for district council candidates. Thus, rather than eliminating special interest money, the fund will simply limit it.
Currently, the council is asking for an initial $1 million dollars for this fund solely for the council and county executive. The Democratic Party incumbent candidates with name recognition will benefit the most from the public campaign financing fund. Republicans, Greens, Independents and non-establishment Democrats (without name recognition) will be at disadvantage. Republicans are outnumbered by Democrats in Montgomery County, MD for every 3 Democrats are outnumbered there is 1 Republican. Even current Council member Rice admits that “Despite the 9-to-0 vote, some council members expressed misgivings. Council President Craig Rice (D-Upcounty) said the size of the qualifying contributions was too steep, putting young and minority candidates without established donor bases at a disadvantage.”
Instead of spending of Montgomery County taxpayers’ money to finance their reelection campaign, the County Council should take some common sense steps to ensure a functioning judiciary.
Firstly, the way to restore at least partially justice and trust of the community is to establish term limits on all judges –no more than 2 terms, so they won’t lose touch with the public.
Secondly, there should be no appointed judges – only elected judges so at least some voters can give a good look at their judging records during election periods.
Lastly, instead of Montgomery County taxpayers paying for Democrats incumbent council members and executive re-election (due to lack of term limits) this money would be better used to pay to finance judicial elections to limit special interest donors funding their campaigns.