AUGUSTA — The statewide referendum group seeking to fend off repeal of Maine’s gay rights measure has reported receiving a campaign contribution from one of the state’s newest judges on the day after the judge was sworn in.
District Court Judge Vendean Vafiades of Augusta offered a different account Wednesday, saying her donation was made before she went on the bench.
“That was before I was a judge,” Vafiades said in a telephone interview from Augusta District Court.
According to the Maine Code of Judicial Conduct, judges are to refrain from inappropriate political activity.
A legal expert who serves on a court-established advisory panel on judicial ethics said he did not believe such a donation was improper, regardless of when it was made.
But the expert said Maine’s code of conduct for judges appears to apply not only to sitting judges but also to successful candidates for the bench who, if not yet sworn in, have been confirmed by the Legislature.
From that perspective, the timing of the donation may not matter.
A campaign finance report by the anti-repeal group known as Maine Won’t Discriminate says $300 from Vafiades was received Nov. 4. Vafiades was sworn in Nov. 3, according to Gov. Angus King’s office.
The treasurer of Maine Won’t Discriminate, Pat Peard, said she had personally solicited Vafiades’ contribution and deliberately did so before Vafiades took her place on the bench.
Peard said she could not recall when she got a check from Vafiades that she put into the referendum campaign treasury, but that she had wanted to make sure there was no appearance of impropriety.
“It was done before she was a judge,” Peard said in a telephone interview from her Portland law office. “That date of receipt was when I turned it in to the campaign. … I could have held the check for three or four weeks before it got turned in.”
Peard said she had tried to avoid raising any question of conflict of interest in soliciting the contribution.
“I was acutely aware of that as a potential issue. I wouldn’t have done anything to compromise her position,” she said.
As for the campaign group reporting receipt of Vafiades’ donation one day after Vafiades’s swearing-in, Peard said: “If that is the case, that is entirely my responsibility and not hers.”
In Wednesday’s telephone interview, Vafiades said she couldn’t remember if she had made her referendum donation before or after King had contacted her about joining the court.
Records kept by the Governor’s Office and the secretary of the Maine Senate show that Vafiades was nominated and formally posted Sept. 5, and that she was confirmed by the Senate on Oct. 6, nearly a full month before she was sworn in and the donation was recorded by Maine Won’t Discriminate.
Vafiades said Wednesday that as a judge she would not contribute to political candidates or causes other than, for example, projects of the bar foundation or a local hospital.
Maine voters go to the polls Feb. 10 to take up a proposed people’s veto of the gay rights bill enacted by the Legislature and signed by the governor last year.