Voters will choose two of the four seats contested this year on the nine-justice State Supreme Court in Mississippi's 33-county Northern District. For one seat, Justice Chuck Easley is seeking re-election to a second eight-year term against a challenge from Appeals Court Justice David Chandler.

The latest campaign finance reports filed last week show Chandler has out-raised Easley $125,838 to $995.08. Chandler's cash-on-hand advantage of over $110,000 to Easley's $700 seems daunting for the incumbent, but that would ignore his past campaign strategies.

In 2000, Easley defeated then-Supreme Court Chief Justice Lenore Prather in the upset of the year. A month before the election, campaign reports showed Easley with less than $10,000 raised. Three weeks later and days before the election, Easley's next report showed self-contributions of greater than $100,000 with several thousand more from last minute attorney and labor contributors.

In 1999, Easley ran unsuccessfully for district attorney and lost in the Democrat Primary. Again, he dropped nearly $20,000 of his own money in at the last minute to self-fund his campaign.

Louisiana-based political analyst Ron Faucheux calls this technique the "Pearl Harbor" strategy where a candidate will "open very quietly, causing your opposition to under estimate your strength and to misread your intentions." This technique works best against incumbents and Easley played it perfectly against Prather.

After Easley defeated Prather, campaign contributions poured in to the Supreme Court Justice-elect's campaign from trial lawyers across the state. Notably, Richard Scruggs, Paul Minor, and Joey Langston, all recently found guilty of corrupting judges, each contributed the maximum amount of $5,000. Easley's campaign raised over $190,000 for a man who had already won and would not run again for six years. What's a guy going to do with that cash in the meantime? Easley came up with an interesting idea.

If you go back to his Nov. 31, 2000 campaign finance report shortly before the election, you will find a $5,000 contribution from Easley's father and a $100,000 contribution from Easley. You know they are contributions because there are five boxes to check: Corporation, PAC, Individual, Loan, Other. Easley checked "individual" on both of those.

Fast forward to two years later when Easley files his report for his 2001 activity. His report is about to show the campaign "repaid loans" to him and his father. So on Jan. 30, 2002, he amended his Oct. 31, 2000, report to change the box he checked from "individual" contribution to "loan." Then on Jan. 31, 2002, he was able to file his report showing he had repaid the loans. However, the report shows he repaid the "loans" shortly after the election, nearly two years before he amended those "contributions" into "loans."

If this sounds shady to you, I haven't even gotten to the bad part.

The Code of Judicial Conduct states in Cannon 5(C)(2), "A candidate's committees shall not solicit or accept contributions and public support for the candidate's campaign earlier than 60 days before the qualifying deadline or later than 120 days after the last election in which the candidate participates during the election year. A candidate shall not use or permit the use of campaign contributions for the private benefit of the candidate or others."

According to his campaign reports, Easley received a $1,000 from the Lewis & Lewis law firm of Clarksdale on March 16, 2001; and received $2,500 each from Jason Shelton and Jimmy Douglas Shelton both attorneys from Tupelo on March 24, 2002. These three contributions all came later than 120 days after Easley's election, in apparent violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct.

Combine those contributions with all that trial lawyer money shortly after his election, and Easley's campaign is still flush with cash even after he "repaid" his "loans." So, on Dec. 15, 2004, Easley cleaned out his campaign account and cut himself a check for $88,934.67.

A sitting Supreme Court justice took money given, in apparent violation of the judicial cannons, to his campaign committee and then to benefit himself, wrote himself a check, in apparent further violation of the judicial cannons.

No, this is not illegal under Mississippi law. But in addition to Mississippi law, judges abide by the Code of Judicial Conduct. Our state constitution empowers the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance with authority to recommend to the Supreme Court discipline for violators of the code ranging from a public reprimand to involuntary retirement. "Any violation of the code of judicial conduct" is grounds for discipline of a judge.

Proceedings of the Commission on Judicial Performance are confidential, so if anyone has downloaded the one page form from their web site and filled out a complaint against Easley, we will not know until and unless the commission acts on it. But in an election year, voters have their own opportunity to excuse such action, or to take it into their own hands to issue "involuntary retirement."

Brian Perry of Jackson, a former congressional aide, is a partner in a public affairs firm and serves as executive director of Mississippians For Economic Progress. He can be reached by e-mail at reasonablyright@brianperry.ms.