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Most People Who Donate to Judges' Campaigns are Attorneys

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RALEIGH — Voters next Tuesday will see a long list of judicial candidates in the ballot. Campaigns are expensive, but you may be surprised at who is donating money to help them get into office.

Most of the people who donate to judges are attorneys -- the same attorneys who appear in front of the judges in the courtroom. The big question: Does a donation buy influence?

Judges and attorneys say no, but some plaintiffs are not so sure.

Bill Lambert is not happy with his divorce settlement. He thinks Wake County District Court Judge Fred Morelock was biased. Lambert discovered that his ex-wife's attorney contributed to Morelock's campaign.

"I think it's outrageous to have a judge receive money from attorneys he's going to be trying cases with," Lambert says.

Morelock says the majority of his contributors are attorneys.

"The irony is that [Lambert's] lawyer contributed to my campaign also," the judge says.

"I bet I have ruled for and against every one of those lawyers," he says. "You just have to keep it separated. I certainly don't let it influence the decisions I make."

Attorney Rick Gammon says he has contributed to as many as 15 judicial candidates this year.

"By contributing to a campaign, we don't expect or we're not asking a judge to rule in our favor. We're just asking the judge to do the right thing," he says.

North Carolina Appellate Court Judge Jack Lewis thinks the system creates a potential conflict of interest. It is one of the main reasons he is not running for re-election after 12 years on the bench.

"I was aware that people who came before me on some occasions had given money. I found that to be extremely embarrassing and regrettable," Lewis says.

"The potential for the good-old-boy, good-old-girl network developing into a corrupt arrangement has got to exist when you consider the amount of money it takes to run, and run a successful campaign," he contends

Lewis is the chairman of North Carolina Judicial Standards Commission. He says most of the complaints received by the commission about judges are frivolous and are dismissed.

He thinks judges should be appointed by the Governor and believes it would help quash concerns about conflicts of interest.