Joseph Stanalonis (l) and Judge David Densford at a LWV candidate's forum
An independent, bipartisan committee has ruled that St. Mary’s County Circuit Court Judge Candidate Joseph Stanalonis violated standards of conduct in contested judicial elections. The Maryland Judicial Campaign Conduct Committee (MDJCCC) released its opinion on August 6 in response to a complaint filed by Prince Frederick attorney George Meng.
The complaint filed with the committee alleges that Stanalonis misled voters with statements featured on several campaign flyers, including one that compared his qualifications with those of incumbent Judge David W. Densford.
In its decision, the committee found that six elements contained in materials disseminated by the Stanalonis campaign violated Standards II (Impartiality), III (Truthfulness and Dignity) and VII (Financial Contributions) of the MDJCCC Standards of Conduct for Contested Judicial Elections.
The committee also concluded that six additional elements of the campaign materials included in Meng’s complaint were not in violation of its standards.
The committee issued a finding of “Violation” in the following six instances:
·Violation of “Truthfulness and Dignity” in a flier titled “The Choice is Clear.” In that flier it was said of Densford: “As judge has never sentenced a single criminal to jail.” The ruling noted that Densford had just been appointed and had not yet been assigned a criminal sentencing. The opinion said, “This flier is a deliberate false representation of Judge Densford’s record.” The opinion goes on to say: “This is a willful and deliberate misrepresentation. It is compounded by the fact that it originates from the campaign of an assistant states’ attorney, an officer of the court, who is obviously in a position to know the real truth.” The finding adds, “This type of plainly misleading statement has no place in a judicial campaign. It is an inflammatory and willful falsification of Judge Densford’s record and precisely what Standard II was designed to prevent.”
·Violation of Truthfulness and Dignity in stating in the same flier that Densford: “Opposed Your Right to Elect Judges.” The finding says, “The Commission finds that the Stanalonis campaign intended to mislead voters with the statement. The record is clear that Judge Densford has never opposed judicial elections. Despite Judge Densford’s previous voting record in support of judicial elections and his current noncommittal public stance, the Stanalonis campaign flier attempted to create the false impression that Judge Densford opposed the practice of elections for circuit court judges, when he has never done so. The committee finds this is an untruthful and misleading statement in violation of Standard III.”
·Violation of Truthfulness and Dignity in stating in the same flier that Densford “Opposes Registration of Convicted Sexual Predators.” The finding says: "The statement is troublesome in two areas. First of all, it is misleading to the extent that it suggests that Judge Densford opposes the concept of sex offender registration. Standard III’s prohibition against misleading statements about a candidate’s qualifications or record is rooted in Rule 8.2(a) of the Maryland Rules of Professional Conduct. That rule states that lawyers, including lawyer candidates for judicial office, ‘shall not make a statement that the lawyer knows to be false or with reckless disregard as to its truth concerning the qualifications or integrity of a judge or of a candidate for election or appointment to judicial or legal office.’ It is plainly misleading to attempt to create the impression that Judge Densford opposed the sex offender registration, when he has not.” The finding goes on to say, “To the extend the statement applies to Judge Densford’s advocacy and private counsel, it sensationalizes the representation of criminal defendants who are potentially subject to offender registration, an important function in our criminal justice system, and violates Standard III. Indeed this type of sensational statement calls into question whether or not Mr. Stanalonis will be able to demonstrate the appearance of impartiality as a judge where sex offenders and their counsel come before him on registration issues.”
·Violation of Impartiality and Truthfulness and Dignity in a statement in the same flier that said: “We must reform our criminal justice system, deal firmly and justly with crime, and stop heading down the path of protecting criminals with no regard for the safety of our children, our schools and our community.” The ruling says the statement “crosses the line.” It adds, “The campaign’s word choice illustrates the fine line between inflammatory language (the criminal justice system has no regard for children’s safety) and permissible hyperbole (The criminal justice system has insufficient regard for children’s safety). It might be fair to opine that the criminal justice system is paying insufficient regard to the safety of children, schools and community, but the claim that the system is paying ‘no’ regard to public safety issues is way over the line and is highly inflammatory. The statement used by the Stanalonis’ campaign is clearly calculated to stoke voter prejudice and impair public confidence in the administration of justice. As such, it plainly violates Standard III’s prohibition against statements that are ‘inflammatory’ or ‘sensational.’ The statement is not befitting of an officer of the court and has no place in judicial campaigns.” It adds, “This statement is also problematic because it may impair the appearance of impartiality if Mr. Stanalonis is elected to public office.”
·Violation of Financial Contributions by not having an authority line on a flier announcing a community breakfast on March 11.
·Violation of Truthfulness and Dignity in a March 29 newspaper ad. The ad quoted an Enterprise editorial by stating that Mr. Stanalonis is “decent, honorable, generous with his time in community affairs” but leaving out the part of the editorial saying the same thing about Judge Densford. The finding said, “To lift complimentary quotes out of an editorial that endorses a judicial candidate’s opponent without disclosing the important fact that the newspaper endorsed the opponent constitutes an impermissible attempt to mislead voters.”
The committee has 19 members. Three of the members, Chair Linda Bowler Pierson and Leign Melton and Timothy Maloney conducted the inquiry which included getting statements from Stanalonis and Densford. Pierson is the former president of the League of Women Voters of Maryland. The committee’s opinions are strictly advisory. It has no official power to censure or sanction violations of their standards.
In conclusion, the committee said of the violations: “This type of conduct has no place in a campaign for judicial office and clearly violates the standards for the Conduct of Contested Judicial Elections.”
The contest between the St. Mary’s County candidates is the only contested judicial election to proceed to the general election on November 6, 2012.
The full decision of the Committee can be found at http://www.mdjccc.org/pdfs/stanalonisdecision.pdf