Attorney's fight against conduct code continues
Ruling by 9th Circuit sends
KINGMAN - A former Mohave County judicial candidate may get his day in court. On Aug. 13, the 9th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals in San Francisco reversed and remanded a decision by the Arizona Federal District Court to dismiss a lawsuit filed by attorney Randolph Wolfson.
Wolfson is a Golden Valley resident and runs the Wolfson Law Center, a Bullhead City-based law firm. He ran for Kingman Justice of the Peace in 2006 and Mohave County Superior Court Division V in 2008. According to the Arizona Code of Judicial Conduct in 2006, judicial candidates are not allowed to speak on legal or political issues, announce their support for other candidates or ballot initiatives, or personally ask for campaign donations.
"It's very difficult to raise funds to run in a rural county," Wolfson said. "If you can't raise money or endorse other candidates, you're basically not allowed to run."
Wolfson sued in 2006, saying the restrictions in the code were unconstitutional. He lost the race for Justice of the Peace. The court dismissed his lawsuit and told him to get an opinion on the matter from Arizona's Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee. Wolfson sought an opinion and the Ethics Committee modified the rules in 2007 to allow judicial candidates to express their opinions and answer questions from voters, as long as a candidate did not commit to ruling in a specific way in a case if they were elected.
While he was waiting for the court and Ethics Committee to return with an opinion, Wolfson filed to run for Mohave County Superior Court in 2008. Once he had the opinion from the Ethics Committee, Wolfson filed a lawsuit to block enforcement of the restrictions in the new election.
When Wolfson lost the race for Superior Court, the court dismissed his second lawsuit, saying, since he was no longer a candidate and did not plan to run for office again, the case was moot. Wolfson appealed to the 9th Circuit Court.
The 9th Circuit Court ruled on Aug. 13 "the District Court erred by dismissing this action as moot." Elections campaign seasons are too short to fully resolve a lawsuit and not allowing a candidate to continue a constitutional challenge after election day would allow many unconstitutional speech laws to remain unchallenged, the court said. The 9th Circuit then remanded or returned the case to the District Court. This allows Wolfson to challenge the Judicial Conduct Code in court. Wolfson isn't sure when the District Court will hold the first hearing on the case.
"Elections for state court judges in Arizona are partisan. Yet under Arizona law, judicial candidates are significantly limited in their ability to engage in many political activities typical of election campaigns," he said. "In a climate where people are screaming that there are judicial activists that have completely ruined the country, to not know where they stand on critical issues of faith, philosophy and politics is voting in the dark."