I got a few emails last night and this morning from SAB readers curious about the presence of Southeast Judicial District Judge Jerod Tufte at the NDGOP’s District 31/34 convention last night in Mandan.
Tufte is running for the state Supreme Court. That’s a non-partisan position, and those campaigning for it are prohibited from seeking any political party’s endorsement.
“I have never seen a judge candidate speak at a partisan political event before, and he is a sitting district judge to boot,” one SAB reader wrote to me. “I believe this is within the boundaries of judicial ethics, but it is still very unusual in ND.”
I reached out to Tufte about it, and he said it’s kosher.
“I am taking my campaign everywhere I can find voters willing to visit with me about the importance of our elected, independent judiciary,” he told me in an email. “Both parties’ district and state conventions are full of engaged voters who talk about elections and candidates with their friends and colleagues.”
“Because we don’t see many contested judicial races, we aren’t as used to seeing judges and judicial candidates appear at events sponsored by political organizations or really do much campaigning at all other than parades,” he added. “I’m confident that anyone who heard me speak will be clear that my appearance was non-partisan and fully compliant with the rules.”
I asked him about the legality of such appearances, and he pointed me to the North Dakota Code of Judicial Conduct – specifically Rule 4.3 – which allows judges to appear at events sponsored by political parties.
“The rules prohibit judicial candidates from seeking, accepting, or using a party endorsement or letter of support, but they expressly authorize speaking at gatherings sponsored by political organizations,” Tufte told me. “North Dakota has a strong tradition of both bench and bar being non-ideological and non-partisan. That tradition is one I respect and want to continue.”
Tufte said he has reached out to the leadership of both the Democrat and Republican parties seeking time to speak at their events. He says he first appeared at a Republican event only because the Republicans start their district conventions earlier.
Tufte has pretty close relationships with Republicans, however. He actually served as legal counsel and a senior policy adviser to Governor Jack Dalrymple, a Republican, starting in 2011 until his appointment to his current post in July of last year. Tufte’s appointment was one of Dalrymple’s record-setting 17 judicial appointments during his term, more than any other governor in state history.