Questions surround donations made by sitting judges to DA's race

One legal ethicist called it 'inappropriate'

SAN DIEGO - As the race for San Diego County's top prosecutor heats up, questions surround donations made to District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis' re-election campaign by two sitting judges.

10News' media partners at inewsource broke down the donations being made to this local race.

Private attorney Robert Brewer outraised four-to-one among those listed as an attorney, lawyer, or general counsel.

Two current judges also donated.

San Diego Superior Court Judge Marshall Hockett gave $250 to Dumanis' campaign last February. Judge Hockett is currently assigned to criminal court. Judge Michael Groch, a former deputy district attorney, donated $400 last June. He is currently assigned to family court.

inewsource spoke to Geoffrey Hazard, a professor emeritus of law at the University of California Hastings College of Law. Hazard called the donations "inappropriate."

"In a hotly contested DA's race, you can expect all hands in the legal community are going to be on deck," said local attorney and San Diego State University lecturer Dan Eaton.

He teaches business and legal ethics at SDSU. While some might see the donations as inappropriate, Eaton says it is not illegal.

He says a judge contributing to the DA's race falls into the category of a "man bites dog" story.

"Generally what happens is that lawyers contribute to judges in contested races. You don't often see it going the other way around. So it is intriguing? Yes," Eaton said.

According to the California Code of Judicial Ethics, sitting judges can donate up to $500 in any calendar year to a "non-judicial candidate, political party or political organization."

Jen Tierney, a spokeswoman with Dumanis' campaign, released this statement to 10News: "The two contributions in question do not exceed those limits and are in compliance with the Code of Ethics."

Tierney said the donations are in compliance with Canon 5, which governs political contributions.

As of mid-March, $519,845 was raised to support Brewer. That includes money made directly to Brewer's campaign as well as an independent expenditure named San Diegans for Better Justice.

Dumanis has raised $400,854.

The money count made in the analysis by inewsource includes non-monetary contributions. It does not include loans made by Brewer and Wyatt to their own campaigns.

Brewer's campaign did not want to comment on the judges' donations.

Terri Wyatt, a former prosecutor also running for district attorney, said judges do need to be concerned about staying neutral, but in this case, she believes they did not cross any legal lines.

Wyatt worked with Groch during his time as a deputy district attorney and calls him a man of "fine integrity."

Team 10 reached out to both judges. Through a court spokeswoman, both Judge Hockett and Judge Groch "politely declined" comment.

The primary election is scheduled for June 3.

Read the full story by inewsource here:

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