FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

JUDICIAL ETHICS ADVISORY COMMITTEE

Opinion Number: 2000-15

Date of Issue: August 11, 2000

WHETHER A JUDGE MAY TAPE A PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT, WHICH DOES NOT SOLICIT VOLUNTEERS OR DONATIONS OF TIME OR MONEY, FOR LOCAL NOT- FOR-PROFIT ORGANIZATIONS, WHERE THE ANNOUNCEMENTS ARE TO SIMPLY ADVISE THE COMMUNITY THAT THESE ORGANIZATIONS EXIST AND TO INCREASE PUBLIC AWARENESS OF THEIR VARIOUS PROJECTS?


ISSUE

Whether a judge may tape a public service announcement, which does not solicit volunteers or donations of time or money, for local not-for-profit organizations, where the announcements are to simply advise the community that these organizations exist and to increase public awareness of their various projects?

ANSWER: No.
FACTS

The inquiring judge would like to do public service announcements for non-profit organizations, which do not solicit volunteers or contributions, where these announcements only advise the public of the existence of such organizations and the projects these organizations run. The judge inquires whether the fact that there is no solicitation of volunteers or donations makes his situation distinguishable from other former opinions of this Committee relating to such announcements.

DISCUSSION

Canon 2B states that "A judge shall not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of ... others." Canon 5C(3)(b)(iii) states that "A judge ... shall not use or permit the use of the prestige of judicial office for fund-raising or membership solicitation."

In Opinion 76-8, this Committee unanimously opined that a judge's taped interview on behalf of a local boys' club, which was to be shown on a telethon, would conflict with former Canon 5B(2). The Committee recognized the worthwhile and laudable purpose of the boys' club activities and that participation by judges is both desirable and commendable, but found the purpose of the interview, i.e., solicitation of funds, was an activity specifically prohibited.

In Opinion 90-19, the Committee opined that a judge's video-taped film segment describing a not-for-profit Boys Ranch corporation, where the organization was embarking on a community education program. At the end of the video tape, there was to be a general request for assistance in the form of volunteers and donations. The Committee agreed that the video tape was proscribed by former Canon 5B(2) as using or permitting the use of the prestige of his office for soliciting funds.

In Opinion 95-28, the Committee agreed that a judge should not appear in an audio-video produced for the purposes of promoting and advertising the YMCA and its programs. The Committee referred to Opinion 90-19 because the audio-video could be used by the organization when seeking funding.

In Opinion 97-29, the Committee opined that a judge could not appear in a promotional sales video because such appearance would violate Canon 2B. The Committee stated that although the company was not seeking a direct judicial endorsement, the judge's testimonial in the video for prospective customers, is at the very least tacitly endorsing the product. The Committee found that such conduct is impermissible and contrary to the dictates of Canon 2B because it lends the prestige of the judge's office to advance the private interests to others. See also Opinion 95- 44 (a judge could not write a positive letter regarding his education at a local high school where the letter would then be displayed in various businesses, such as real estate offices where potential customers can be made aware of the fact that they need not fear purchasing homes in the school district); Opinion 97-16 (judge could not provide endorsement to local newspaper involved in legal education program used in local high schools because, "[a]lthough local newspaper was concerned with advancing public awareness about the law and the legal system by providing materials to local students, it is certainly first and foremost a commercial endeavor.").

This Committee finds that although there is no direct solicitation of funds or membership on these taped public service announcements, the judge's testimonial in the video for the public, i.e., prospective volunteers and contributors, is at the very least tacitly lending the prestige of the judge's office to advance the solicitation of funds and/or membership. Further, this Committee notes that the inquiring judge has not stated whether these public service announcements will or will not be used in any future solicitation of funds and/or members by the not-for- profit organizations. However, it seems that the potential for such uses would be likely. Therefore, this Committee finds that the appearance of a judge in such a video would provide a potential contradiction the [sic] dictates of Canon 5C(3)(b)(iii) and Canon 2B.

REFERENCES

Florida Code of Judicial Conduct Canons 2B and 5C(3)(b)(iii) .

Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinions: 76-8, 90-19, 95- 28, 95-44, 97-16, and 97-29.

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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: Judges L. Kahn, Levy, Silverman, Smith, Swartz, Thompson and Townsend.

Copies furnished to:
Justice Peggy Quince
All Committee Members
All Members of the J.Q.C.
Office of the State Courts Administrator (Name of inquiring judge deleted from this copy)