By Tim Farley
Canadian County Associate District Judge Bob Hughey is disseminating information on his campaign web site that could be an ethical violation, his opponent claims.
Earlier this week, Hughey’s web site showed his opponent Rachel Bussett had handled only six juvenile cases. The web site was not specific about the cases and which counties they were adjudicated.
After being contacted by the Yukon Progress on Tuesday, the web site was changed to state Bussett was involved in a “handful” of juvenile cases.
The associate district judge in Canadian County oversees the juvenile justice center and handles all juvenile cases.
Still, Bussett said Hughey’s campaign may have violated Oklahoma and American bar association standards and state ethics laws by publicly stating she had handled only six juvenile cases, which are confidential matters. Records of juvenile hearings are sealed and not privy to public inspection.
“My name being associated with any confidential proceeding in juvenile court would not and cannot be accessible through open docket records. The only way anyone could have an accurate case count is through a violation of Ethics Rule 2-14 by using court property to further campaign purposes,” Bussett said.
The ethics rule cited by Bussett is part of the Oklahoma Ethics Commission’s rules of conduct in state elections.
The rule specifically states, “No state officer or employee shall use a state-owned telephone, state electronic mail or other state equipment, property or services to advocate the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate for any elective office or a vote for or against a state question or any other question to be voted upon at an election.”
District and associate district judges are state employees.
Hughey declined to speak to the Yukon Progress about any issue related to the judicial campaign, citing Bussett’s involvement with the newspaper as its corporate attorney. Bussett has been the newspaper’s legal counsel for seven years. Yukon Progress Publisher Randy Anderson also contributed $2,700 to Bussett’s campaign, according to campaign finance reports.
“I have no comment on anything,” he said. “Your newspaper has picked a side on this matter. I have nothing to gain by talking to you. Your newspaper contributed $2,700 to my opponent and I have no further comment.”
Hughey ended the telephone conversation before the Yukon Progress could ask him about the alleged ethical violation and the information on his campaign’s web site.
Still, Bussett maintains Hughey may have violated Oklahoma Bar Association rules for a judge or judicial candidate. According to the bar association rules, a judge “shall not require or compel court staff to aid or assist in a campaign for judicial office or use court resources in such a campaign.”
Bussett contends Hughey or someone connected to his campaign had to use Canadian County court computers to research the number of confidential juvenile cases she has been involved with.
The American Bar Association also specifies that judges cannot use court staff or other resources for the benefit of a campaign.
Bussett said she continues to be involved in juvenile court cases throughout Oklahoma and the number cited by Hughey’s campaign is inaccurate.
“I can say that my practice is not now nor has it ever been limited to Canadian County only. I have been and continue to be involved in proceedings in the juvenile justice system throughout the state. I cannot comment further because of the confidential nature of these proceedings,” she said.
At the present time, Bussett said she is handling juvenile cases in five different counties and “at least four cases in Canadian County.” Bussett said she handles a minimum of 100 cases per year with half of her practice connected to family law, which includes guardianship, adoption, custody issues, visitation and deprived proceedings.
“These are all matters handled by the associate district judge at Canadian County’s (juvenile) justice center,” she said. “I can tell you that every day I work, I am touching at least one case involving the juvenile justice system in some way.”