On Friday, January 5, 2024, The Bay Area Reporter reported that Mark Fickes, an Alameda County Superior Court commissioner running for judge, disclosed that he voted for District Attorney Pamela Price in the 2022 election. This announcement at a meeting of the Alameda County Democratic Party Central Committee could violate judicial ethics rules regarding impartiality and create the appearance of bias.
Fickes made the statement when asked by a committee member who the judicial candidates voted for in the DA race. According to a video of the meeting, Fickes said he voted for Price. Price then voted to endorse Fickes’ judicial campaign. Experts said this public endorsement and disclosure of support could be seen as creating political alliances that question whether defendants receive a fair trial if Fickes is elected judge.
Michael Johnson, Fickes’ opponent in the March election, did not disclose how he voted and said the judicial canons prohibit such statements. He plans to formally respond to Fickes’ actions. Experts agree that political activity creating biased impressions is forbidden. As district attorney, Price’s prosecutors regularly appear in Alameda courtrooms, so Fickes’ support could influence his rulings.
Retired Judge LaDoris Cordell said all judges must know ethics rules prohibit public endorsement of non-judicial candidates like Price. Political endorsements can be disciplined acts. Fickes’ announcement blatantly ignored these rules. Cordell noted ethics education is required for judges and commissioners. While private citizens face no ethics limits, political activity as a sitting commissioner must meet higher impartiality standards.
Questions were also raised about Price endorsing Fickes after his disclosure of support for her election. The California Commission on Judicial Performance and Alameda Presiding Judge Thomas Nixon declined to comment on the situation. Fickes did not respond to requests for comment.
Experts agree candidates should avoid any behavior creating biased impressions to uphold the judiciary’s integrity and independence. Johnson committed to impartial decision making free of outside political influences if elected. The situation highlighted the importance of judicial ethics in ensuring fair trials and an unquestionably neutral judicial system.
Source: The Bay Area Reporter