Should Pa. Judges Withdraw From Cases Involving Campaign Donors?

New ethics rules urge caution.


Pittsburgh’s TribLive reports that Pennsylvania judges have a new Code of Judicial Conduct, the first re-write in 40 years.

Among the changes: The code urges judges to consider withdrawing from cases where one of the parties has contributed a lot of money to his or her election campaign.

Judges should recuse themselves if they learn a party in a case makes a donation “in an amount that would raise a reasonable concern” about fairness or impartiality.

A race in Philadelphia might cost $100,000. It could be half that in rural areas. Some states don’t permit a judge to hear a case if a party has donated more than a certain amount. In New York, the threshold is $2,500 in an election cycle.

Judges in Pennsylvania are not allowed to solicit donations directly. They must use campaign committees.

“The (new) rule begins when the judge knows or learns that a party or party’s lawyers have contributed,” Allegheny County President Judge Jeffrey Manning said. “In my experience, the judges on this court have generally isolated themselves from that kind of knowledge.”

The new code went into effect July 1st.