By Jason Charpentier | June 10, 2015

The recently completed election cycle has left many of us fed up and disgusted with the level of negative ads and campaigning.  Such boorish behavior demeans not only the candidates and their parties, but the very offices they seek to occupy.

It is time that political parties and politicians regulate their own conduct, much like the self-governing structure of the legal profession.  Lawyers in the various states enforce codes of conduct on each other.  In Missouri, the Rules of Professional Conduct are written by lawyers and adopted by our Supreme Court, as part of our judicial rules.  The desire and will to win for a lawyer is no less than that of a political candidate.  Client causes are important.  Lives and financial positions are on the line.  In spite of the importance of winning our cases, lawyers ascribe to basic, fundamental rules of fair play.  For example, Rule 4-3.1 prohibits a lawyer from bringing a claim or raising a defense where there is no reasonable basis for doing so.  Rule 4-3.3 mandates complete honesty and candor in all dealings between lawyers and judges.  No matter how high the stakes, a lawyer cannot misrepresent factual matters during the handling of a case.  Rule 4-3.4 requires lawyers to treat their adversaries with fairness in all aspects of pre-trial and trial proceedings.  Failure to adhere to these standards may result in discipline, ranging from reprimand to disbarment.  Lawyers impose discipline on lawyers.

Isn’t it time for politicians and political parties to adopt a similar program to regulate the conduct of their candidates.  In Missouri, the Ethics Commission (which is intended to scrutinize and regulate the financial arm of campaigns) could be expanded with a Commission empowered to adopt and enforce a model code to set forth standards for political campaigns.  The Code can certainly be modeled on the Bar’s Rules of Professional Responsibility.  The Commission must have the power to enforce discipline for violating our standards.  Fines or campaign suspensions are just examples of discipline which could be imposed.  The most important concept is simply to achieve a system where politicians regulate their own imposing standards of conduct which will elevate the discourse of our democracy.

The Rules of Professional Conduct governing lawyers is yet another example of how our community can benefit from following the lead of lawyers.

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