FLORIDA SUPREME COURT
JUDICIAL ETHICS ADVISORY COMMITTEE
Opinion Number: 00-30
Date of Issue: November 15, 2000
WHETHER A CIRCUIT COURT JUDGE MAY PUBLICLY COMMENT ABOUT A LEGAL PROCEEDING WHILE A RELATED LEGAL PROCEEDING IS IMPENDING.
The inquiring circuit judge presided over an emergency shelter hearing, wherein the children involved were placed in the care of the Department of Children and Families. The inquiring judge had no other involvement in the subsequent dependency proceedings that followed.
Ultimately, the State's dependency petition was denied by a juvenile court judge and the children involved were returned to their parents. No appeal has been filed in the matter; however, it is evident that the parents are seeking recovery of their attorney's fees for defending the matter from the State.
The inquiry concerns a letter sent to the inquiring judge by a local newspaper which has requested that the judge answer extensive, detailed questions about the emergency shelter hearing over which the judge previously presided. The inquiring judge wishes to know whether the judge may respond to the newspaper in light of Canon 3 of the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct.
By virtue of its title, Canon 3 of the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct mandates that "A Judge Shall Perform the Duties of Judicial Office Impartially and Diligently." In particular, Canon 3B(9) provides:
A judge shall not, while a proceeding is pending or impending in any court, make any public comment that might reasonably be expected to affect its outcome or impair its fairness or make any nonpublic comment that might substantially interfere with a fair trial or hearing. . . .
The Commentary to Canon 3B(9) further explains that this requirement "continues during any appellate process and until final disposition."
The Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee (Committee) finds that, under said Canon, the inquiring judge is precluded from responding to the local newspaper's questions. Though the order denying the dependency petition is not being appealed, it is quite apparent that the parents intend to seek recovery of their attorney's fees for defending the matter from the State. Consequently, it would be inappropriate for the inquiring judge to publicly comment about the emergency shelter hearing as such comments might affect the outcome of the parents' impending attorney's fees litigation in the circuit court. The Committee finds that the inquiring judge should refrain from making public comments about said hearing during the course of the attorney's fees litigation, during the subsequent appellate process and until final disposition of the matter.
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
Judge Charles J. Kahn, Jr.
Judge Lisa D. Kahn
Judge C. McFerrin Smith, III
Judge Scott J. Silverman
Judge Gisela Cardonne
Judge David Levy
Marjorie Gadarian Graham, Esquire