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Utah's top federal jurist violated judicial rules with Obama donations

Published October 24, 2008 1:53 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

WASHINGTON - Utah's chief federal judge violated judicial rules by contributing to Barack Obama's presidential campaign.

Judge Tena Campbell, a President Clinton appointee, donated $100 to the Democratic candidate on Aug. 28, 2007, according to campaign disclosures filed with the Federal Election Commission.

The disclosure lists Campbell's profession as "lawyer" and her employer the "govtt." The address listed on the contribution is Campbell's court chambers.

It wasn't her only donation. Campbell contributed multiple times for a total of $300, but only her last donation was made public. Campaigns are not required to release the names of contributors until they donate more than $200.

The Obama campaign verified the donations and plans to return the money.

"When problems are brought to our attention, we take immediate steps to correct them," said Obama spokeswoman Shannon Gilson.

Campbell did not respond to repeated requests for comment during the past two days.

"She doesn't make statements about her political activity," said Campbell's clerk Chris Ford.

The donations violate the seventh canon of the Judicial Code of Conduct, which says "a judge should not . . . make a contribution to a political organization or candidate."

The reason behind the rule is fairly simple, says Cynthia Gray, an ethics expert with the American Judicature Society.

"Federal judges are supposed to be as apolitical as possible, not to show any sort of indication that they would tip to one side or the other," she said.

But the punishment for such a violation is pretty light. Gray said a complaint could be filed to the chief circuit court judge, who could then call Campbell and remind her of the judicial code.

That's exactly what happened in January 2007, when Circuit Judge Deborah Cook, of Ohio, was reprimanded and apologized for making two political donations.

Campbell, 63, spent four years in private practice before working as a Salt Lake County prosecutor. She was working as an assistant U.S. attorney when Clinton nominated her to the federal bench in 1995. She was unanimously confirmed by the Senate, making her the first female district judge in Utah.

Last year, Campbell became the chief district judge, giving her responsibility over the budgeting and operations of the court.

mcanham@sltrib.com,

tburr@sltrib.com