Thursday, September 30, 2004

Group: Let judges speak out

Family Trust says ethics laws violate free speech

The Associated Press

LONDON, Ky. - The Family Trust Foundation of Kentucky wants state judicial candidates to be allowed to state their views on such issues as gay marriage and religious freedom.

The conservative Lexington organization filed a lawsuit last week in U.S. District Court in London arguing that the state's judicial-ethics laws violate a judge's right to free speech and association.

The organization argues that Family Trust's free speech also has been violated because it cannot inform the public through its surveys how a judge stands on certain issues.

The law states that Kentucky judges are not allowed to make comments that commit or "appear to commit candidates with respect to cases, controversies or issues that are likely to become before the court."

Named in the lawsuit are members of the Kentucky Judicial Conduct Commission and members of the Kentucky Bar Association.

In Ohio, a federal judge earlier this month said rules limiting judges' campaign speech violate the U.S. constitution.

Family Trust sent a survey to judicial candidates this summer asking about their beliefs on issues including cloning, the display of the Ten Commandments in public buildings and pornography.

Many judicial candidates returned the Family Trust's survey unanswered, adding that they could not respond because of the state's judicial canon prohibiting candidates from making statements on specific issues.

Family Trust is asking a federal judge to declare the canon and the enforcement policies regarding it unconstitutional.

Family Trust asked a federal judge for an emergency injunction so it can get its surveys to the public before the Nov. 2 election.

"The current powers that be in Kentucky place restrictions on what a judicial candidate can say, which, in other words, limits their free speech," said Kent Ostrander, the executive director of the foundation. "And that, in turn, limits the knowledge that the voters need to make a wise decision."

U.S. District Court Judge Danny Reeves has set Oct. 15 as a tentative date for a hearing on the foundation's motion for injunctive relief.

Linda Gosnell, chief counsel for the Kentucky Bar Association and a defendant in the lawsuit, said the bar thinks the state's canon concerning judicial campaigns follows case law.

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