FLORIDA SUPREME COURT
JUDICIAL ETHICS ADVISORY COMMITTEE
Opinion Number: 2000-12
Date of Issue: June 22, 2000
Whether a judicial candidate involved in a re-election, who has no active opposition, may attend a political forum hosted by the National Hispanic Republican Assembly where all candidates will be invited to attend?ANSWER: Yes.
The inquiring judge is a circuit judge up for re-election this year. The judge has filed the qualifying papers and has opened a campaign account. At this point, the judge does not have any announced opposition, nor is there any indication that the judge will have opposition. The judge is aware of a series of forums that will be hosted by The National Hispanic Republic Assembly in the circuit. It is the judge's understanding that all candidates will be invited to attend these forums. The judge inquires whether he or she may attend these forums.
A judicial candidate involved in an election or re-election, or a merit retention candidate who has certified that he or she has active opposition, may attend a political party function to speak in behalf of his or her candidacy or on a matter that relates to the law, the improvement of the legal system, or the administration of justice. The function must not be a fund raiser, and the invitation to speak must also include the other candidates, if any for that office.
In Opinion 90-16, this Committee found that an unopposed incumbent elected judge or judicial candidate may only engage in those activities referred to in [former] Canon 7B(3), and such activities do not include appearing at or speaking before partisan political functions. See also Opinion 96-20 ("Opinion 90-16 prohibits the contemplated conduct" of candidate for circuit judge attending local Republican and Democratic meetings, which are open to the public and which judge was not invited to speak, in order to distribute campaign literature and speak to attendees).
Former Canon 7B(3) stated: "An incumbent judge who is a candidate for retention in or re-election to office without a competing candidate, and whose candidacy has drawn active opposition, may campaign in response thereto and may obtain publicly stated support and campaign funds in the manner provided in subsection B(2)". However, the Florida Supreme Court adopted a new Canon 7C(3), supra. See In re Code of Judicial Conduct, 675 So. 2d 111 (Fla. 1996); see also In re Code of Judicial Conduct, 643 So. 2d 1037 (Fla. 1994) (amendments to Canon 7 effective January 1, 1995). The new amended Canon 7C(3) sets off the "active opposition" clause from a "judicial candidate involved in election or reelection." Thus, the changes in Canon 7C(3) may well require a different result than former Canon 7B(3). Also, in Opinion 96-11, the Committee concluded that "as a candidate for judicial office," the inquiring candidate could attend political functions to speak in behalf of the candidate's candidacy as long as the function was not a fundraiser and the other candidates for the office, if any, were also invited under the newly amended Canon 7C(3).
Therefore, this Committee finds that Canon 7C(3) would not prohibit the inquiring judge's attendance at the series of forums hosted by The National Hispanic Republican Assembly, where all candidates will be invited to attend, as long as the forums are not fundraisers, and no other Canon is involved. Two members of the Committee continue to interpret Canon 7C(3) to prohibit an unopposed judge from attending these partisan political functions.
The Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee is expressly charged with rendering advisory opinions interpreting the application of the Code of Judicial Conduct to specific circumstances confronting or affecting a judge or judicial candidate. Its opinions are advisory to the inquiring party, to the Judicial Qualifications Commission and to the judiciary at large. Conduct that is consistent with an advisory opinion issued by the Committee may be evidence of good faith on the part of the judge, but the Judicial Qualifications Commission is not bound by the interpretive opinions by the Committee. Petition of the Committee on Standards of Conduct Governing Judges, 698 So.2d 834 (Fla. 1997). However, in reviewing the recommendations of the Judicial Qualification Commission for discipline, the Florida Supreme Court will consider conduct in accordance with a Committee opinion as evidence of good faith. Id.
For further information, contact The Honorable C. McFerrin Smith, III, Chair, Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, 130 West New York Avenue, DeLand, Florida, 32720.
Participating Members: Graham, Attorney at Law and Judges Cardonne, C. Kahn, Levy, Silverman, Smith, Swartz, Thompson and Townsend.Copies furnished to: