FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

JUDICIAL ETHICS ADVISORY COMMITTEE

Opinion Number: 00-29 (Election) 1
Date of Issue: August 28, 2000

ISSUES

WHETHER A JUDICIAL CANDIDATE CAN PUBLICIZE AN ENDORSEMENT OF A POLITICAL PARTY OBTAINED WITHOUT INVITING OR INTERVIEWING ANY OF THE CANDIDATES.

ANSWER: No.

FACTS

The inquiring party is a candidate for county court judge. The candidate has received an endorsement from the local Republican party. The endorsement was received without interviewing or inviting any of the candidates. However, the candidate provided the party with a copy of an application previously provided to the Judicial Nominating Committee (JNC).

DISCUSSION

This Committee has already addressed the issue raised by this inquiry. JEAC Opinion Number 84-19 prohibited a judicial candidate from participating in an endorsement or rating interview held by a political party. Further, the Committee unanimously voted that the candidate may not publish any rating or endorsement, which resulted from the interviews. While the method of involvement by the candidate is different in the instant case, the resulting endorsement still cannot be published by the candidate.

Section 105.071, Florida Statutes (1999), provides that a candidate for judicial office shall not publicly represent or advertise herself or himself as a member of any political party. In Concerned Democrats of Florida v. Reno, 358 F. Supp. 60 (S.D. Fla. 1978), the federal court struck down section 105.09, Florida Statutes, which prohibited a political party from supporting, endorsing or assisting any judicial candidate. The court found that the statute violates the First Amendment. The court noted, however, in support of its decision to strike down the political party prohibition:

There are certainly less restrictive alternatives available to the state; in fact, it appears that they already exist. The court feels that the state can permissibly achieve its goal of keeping judicial elections non-partisan by regulating the partisan activity of judges and political candidates. This appears to have been accomplished by Florida Statutes Section 105.71. Reno, 458 F. Supp. at 65.

Since political party endorsements are generally not made outside of party affiliation, advertising the endorsement of the local Republican party is tantamount to advertising oneself as a member of that political party.

The Florida Supreme Court has made the fact that judicial candidates should not be involved in partisan politics abundantly clear. See In re Alley, 699 So. 2d 1369 (Fla. 1997).

In JEAC Opinion Number 96-21, a candidate wished to respond to a questionnaire propounded by a county Republican executive committee. The Committee found it improper for the candidate to respond to the questionnaire by listing the candidate's extensive partisan activities.

In JEAC Opinion Number 98-19, the Committee found a judicial candidate should neither attend an interview of nor send campaign literature to a political party in order to obtain the party's endorsement.

REFERENCES

Section 105.071, Florida Statutes (1999).

In re Alley, 699 So. 2d 1369 (Fla. 1997).

In Concerned Democrats of Florida v. Reno, 358 F.Supp. 60 (S.D. Fla. 1978).

Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinions: 84-22, 96-21, 98-19.

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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 Judge Charles J. Kahn, Jr., Chairman, Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, 301 Martin Luther King, Jr., Blvd., Tallahassee, FL 32399-1850

Participating Members: Judge Charles J. Kahn, Jr., Judge Lisa D. Kahn, Judge Phyllis D. Kotey, Judge Scott J. Silverman

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)

1The Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee has appointed an Election Practices Subcommittee. The purpose of this subcommittee is to give immediate responses to campaign questions in instances where the normal Committee procedure would not provide a response in time to be useful to the inquiring candidate or judge. Opinions designated with the "(Election)" notation are opinions of the Election Practices Subcommittee of the Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, and have the same authority as an opinion of the whole Committee.