Should Lawyers Be Allowed to Donate to a Judge’s Election Campaign When They Have a Case Before Their Court?

After our article on the Lafountain TMFPA case and the allegations of Medicaid fraud against 71 dentists and dental entities the relator had never worked for, TDMR received a copy of an invitation to a political fundraising reception that was held back in February in Dallas where the case is being played out.  The reception was held at the law offices of  Winston & Strawn to raise funds for the re-election campaign of a popular, well-respected judge of the Dallas County District Court, Judge Maricela Moore.

Last year, Judge Moore was awarded Trial Judge of the Year by the American Board of Trial Advocates and she currently has the endorsement of the Dallas Morning News and many other respected peers for her re-election bid against a strong Republican opponent.

Raising political donations

To promote the evening, the invitation contains a list of 30 lawyers and law firms that had already donated various amounts of money.  Platinum sponsors had given $5,000, Gold $2,500, and Silver $1,000.  Among the list of Silver sponsors are the names of Andrew Sommerman, Tex Quesada, and Sean McCaffity. 

The names struck a bell because all these individuals are lawyers to Joshua Fountain in the TMFPA suit. They are partners in the Dallas law firm of Sommerman, McCaffity, Quesada & Geisler

And the Lafountain case is currently before Judge Maricela Moore. 

Right to donate to candidate of choice

A contribution of $1,000 each is hardly worth mentioning.  Others had given the same or more.  Individuals have the right to donate to candidates of the political party they support and believe are worthy.

But it did cause us to do a bit more research.

More than meets the eye

Campaign donations can be checked online on the Texas Ethics Commission website.  It turns out that the Sommerman partners and their firm have so far donated a total of $14,000 to the judge’s re-election campaign — $5,000 from the firm, $1,500 each from Andrew Sommerman, Tex Quesada and Sean McCaffity, who is now running for a U.S. Congressional seat, and another $1,500 each from their professional corporations.

By contrast, the only other attorney in their firm to give to Judge Moore’s campaign is the well-respected Al Ellis who donated a total of $650, according to TEC filings.

The search of the TEC donation records also disclosed that Jerry Alexander and Kyle Mandeville of the firm Passman & Jones, two more of Lafountain’s attorneys, have so far donated a total of $3,750 individually and from their firm to the judge’s re-election campaign.

At what amount does it start to look improper?

Now $17,000 is significant coin to a sitting judge presiding over their case in court.

We have to ask at what point does the dollar amount of contributions create the appearance of attempting to influence a court?

According to the Texas Ethics Commission Guidelines for Judicial Candidates and Officeholders, the maximum donation level for individuals in Dallas County is $5,000 for candidates for courts of appeals, district courts, statutory county courts, or statutory probate courts.  But there is no guideline to take into account contributions given to a judge who is currently presiding over a lawyer’s case.  

It’s a hard question.

Questions raised before

It’s not like this type of issue hasn’t been brought up in Texas before. It is even a topic of current media interest in Newsweek and the NY Times – “Campaign Funds for Judges Warp Criminal Justice, Study Finds – Judges in Harris County, Texas, were far more likely to appoint lawyers who had donated to their campaigns to represent poor criminal defendants.”

The Texas Tribune earlier this year published a feature article – “Speaking statistically, this GOP donor wants to convince you that money buys justice in Texas – After losing a case at the all-Republican Texas Supreme Court, millionaire Salem Abraham set out to mathematically test the idea that campaign contribution influence the elected justices. Now he wants to change the system.”

TDMR is not the Texas Tribune nor the NY Times but we thought the monetary amount worthy of public mention.

10 Responses

  • What a screwed up system where lawyers can help re-elect a judge that is in charge of a case that could bring them millions of dollars.

  • There needs to be direct action taken to make sure a system is put in place where this can’t happen. This case is the definition of injustice.

  • This is just unbelievable. How is this not an issue? The system is completely F#@&% up.

    Justice is not being served. What is going on here?

  • Perfect example that the law doesn’t care about justice. This blatant systemic failure stands to ruin lives and livelihoods. Very poor precedent.

  • This is a veiled attempt at a discreet bribe. What are we, a Third World Country now?!

  • Hmmm… Well this may explain why this obviously bogus case has gotten so far in the court system!

    The only silver lining here is that these are elected officials and we have the knowledge on how to make a change happen when they come up for re-election!
    Everyone I’ve shared this story with can’t believe this type of strong arm extortion is allowed to happen to healthcare workers, especially now a days when we are risking everything with COVID. I can’t imagine dealing with this.
    I’m spreading the word to my circle or dentists and MD’s for sure!

  • I am sure this is all “legal”. Is it MORAL or ETHICAL? Clearly it is not in my opinion. There needs to be an outside entity that looks at these types of cases and provides oversight so that the system is not abused, like in this case, and people’s lives are not ruined. It’s a qui tam lawsuit, so it would be the OAG’s responsibility to prevent abuse of these laws in the name of the State of Texas.

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