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Judges may be forced to disclose contributions

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State judges would be required to disclose political contributions they receive under a bill supported by the Utah Judicial Council.

State judges in Utah face retention elections. No opponent appears on the ballot. Voters simply decide whether a judge should continue to serve.

Since judges usually are unopposed, they normally don't campaign. However, under Utah Supreme Court policy, judges opposed in the community can campaign and raise contributions through private committees.

But they do not have to disclose the amount they raise, the identity of the donors or the people who organize the efforts.

The proposed financial disclosure bill stems from the 1996 retention election of 3rd District Judge David Young.

Young, believed by some as biased against women and gays, faced organized opposition to his retention bid. Prominent attorneys rallied to his defense and solicited contributions to underwrite newspaper advertisements signed by dozens of lawyers.

That incident raised the issue of whether judges who campaign ought to be subject to the same scrutiny as political candidates.

"(This bill) gives the appearance on our part to be open when openness seems to be the order of the day," said state Supreme Court Justice Michael Wilkins "It has low-cost and high value."

State judges agreed to support the proposal.