Judge's 'Ignorance of the Law' Led to Campaign Finance Violations

By William Vogeler, Esq. on April 18, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

How much interest can you get from campaign loans?

Too much for Judge Tara Flanagan, who won her race for the Alameda County Superior Court in 2012 but is still paying for some campaign loans. Flanagan borrowed $25,000 from her campaign treasurer to run for the job, but it's not the interest on the loans that is the problem.

It's the interest from the loans that is killing her. The state Fair Political Practices Commission fined Flanagan $4,500 in 2015 for improperly reporting the loans, and now the state Commission of Judicial Commission has publicly admonished her for the violations.

"I was a first time judicial candidate and did not understand how to properly report a personal loan that I used for campaign expenditures," Flanagan said in a statement.

Commingled Funds

The Commission on Judicial Performance, which enforces judicial ethics, found that Flanagan violated several Government Code laws for mishandling her campaign finances. Among other violations, she commingled campaign contributions and personal funds.

"These violations of law constituted improper political activity in violation of canon 5 of the Code of Judicial Ethics, applicable to candidates for judicial office, and conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice that brings the judicial office into disrepute," the commission said.

Flanagan told the commission that she had never run for political office before, and did not know the applicable laws. She said her mistakes were unintentional, but the commission said she should have known better.

"Ignorance of the law is an aggravating factor for a judicial candidate," the commission said.

A Close Call

In a three-way contest, Flanagan won the election by less than one percent. According to reports, she garnered 50.8 percent of the votes.

On election eve, however, she had only 49 percent and faced a runoff election. But additional ballots counted after the election gave her enough to put her over the 50 percent threshold.

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