"In Texas we have a system that allows defense attornies [sic] to make political contributions to help judges get elected. Tell me how you can be objective when the defense attorney appearing in your court has been instrumental in getting you elected and lives in your neighborhood. As the father of a murder victim I find that very troublesome."
First of all, my condolences on your loss. I have dealt with a number of parents who have lost children to those committing crimes, from murder to DWI. Their pain is real and trying to bring them a measure of justice and some sort of closure is one of the main reasons I do this job.
Second, moving on to your question, I think there are a number of possible responses. No doubt I'll miss some, and feel free to take issue with those I do mention.
- Most, if not all of the judges I have met do what they do for the same reasons I do my job: they have a deep respect for the law and believe that by its proper implementation wrongs can be righted, to some degree anyway. This means that a donation three years previously, or even a week previously, by one defense lawyer will not alter a fundamental belief that they are on the bench to do the right thing, as best they can. Judges, in my view, simply aren't that malleable.
- Defense attorneys, like prosecutors, appreciate a fair and knowledgeable judge. We really do. The best thing I can say about the two judges I have practiced in front of here is that they are fair and know the law. Look at it this way: what would happen if a judge sided with the defense lawyer no matter what? First, he'd lose all respect around the courthouse and that does matter. Second, more importantly, he'd find a lot of his cases being bounced back by the court of appeals. And believe me when I say that matters even more! Judges like to get it right and hate to be reversed. And the only way to get it right is to apply the law evenly and fairly.
- The donating of campaign funds is only one measure of potential influence. Remember, I practice in front of the same judge day in and day out for months, even years. A defense lawyer, or defendant, could counter your concern by saying: "Jeez, those guys know each other and work together every day. Totally unfair."
- There is also the practical effect of incumbency. No judge I know is ever complacent about their position but it's a truth that a sitting judge is hard to remove in Travis County. I know of only one instance in the criminal district courts in 20 years (coincidentally, Judge Lynch replaced a sitting judge). This means that the potential effect of a campaign contribution is even further diluted - if the defense lawyer doesn't like a ruling and stops contributing, it doesn't matter too much.
- Prosecutors get to contribute, too. I think. Never done it myself because I have three little kids and don't make enough to be giving it away but as far as I know, we are allowed to make contributions, too.