FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

JUDICIAL ETHICS ADVISORY COMMITTEE

Opinion Number: 00-31
Date of Issue: October 4, 2000

ISSUES

MAY A JUDGE ACT AS THE CHAIRPERSON OF A KICKOFF EVENT FOR A FUND-RAISING ORGANIZATION?

ANSWER: No.

FACTS

The inquiring judge has been asked by a charitable organization to act as the chairperson for their "kickoff" event which is to be followed shortly thereafter by a fund-raising auction.

In recent opinions, this Committee has been faced with numerous inquiries from judges who have become increasingly concerned over their inability to participate in events or organizations with admittedly admirable goals. The concern continues to be over the isolation that judges must suffer from the mainstream of their communities.

This Committee has struggled with an attempt to establish a "bright line" test for judges to follow, but has been unsuccessful in doing so. In instances where the prestige of the judicial office is clearly a draw to participation by others, however, the decision is not in question.

In the instant matter, the judge has furnished the Committee with information from the organization which clearly indicates that the event the judge is to chair aims to draw the public to an auction to raise money for its charitable projects. The organization, in its invitation to the judge, states that the "...Kick-off will be at the beginning of the 'Tea', two hours before the fundraising auction begins."

DISCUSSION

No matter what the time differential, the event is unquestionably a fund raiser.

In one of this Committee's most recent opinions, we stated that there are "many roles in a concession booth, which will not require a judge to actively solicit funds or sell goods." See Fla. JEAC Op. 00-17. There are likewise many roles this judge can play in assisting this organization in its fund raising activities that do not make the judge visible and do not give the appearance of active participation in the solicitation of funds.

Canon 2B of the Code of Judicial Conduct states that a judge "shall not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of others."

Canon 5C(3)(b)(i) and (iii) state in pertinent part:

(3) A judge may serve as an officer, director, trustee or non-legal advisor of a . . .charitable. . .organization not conducted for profit, subject to the following limitations and the other requirements of this Code.
* * *
(b) A judge as an officer, director, trustee or non-legal advisor, or as a member or otherwise: (i) may assist such organization in planning a fund-raising event. . . , but shall not personally participate in the solicitation of funds...
* * *
(iii) shall not use or permit the use of the prestige of judicial office for fund-raising or membership solicitation.

In several opinions, the Committee has addressed the issue of lending the prestige of judicial office to charitable fund-raising events and has made it clear that, if the judges participation in any way involves the solicitation or gives the appearance of the solicitation of funds, the judge may not participate. See Fla. JEAC Op. 98-10 (the Committee stated that the judge could participate unless "the event is a fundraiser."); Fla. JEAC Op. 92-38 (judge may not be involved in the solicitation of donations of coats for the homeless that would be distributed by the Salvation Army); and Fla. JEAC Op. 88-5 (judge cannot participate in an exhibition basketball game to raise scholarship money where participation implicated the prestige of judge's office for the purpose of rasing funds).

Under the circumstances presented, the Committee believes that the prestige of the judge's office is being used to enhance a charitable fund raising event and must disapprove the judge's participation.

REFERENCES

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

Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinion Numbers: 00-17, 98-10, 92-38, 88-5.

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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 Gisela Cardonne
Judge Phyllis D. Kotey
Judge David Levy
Judge Scott J. Silverman
Judge C. McFerrin Smith, III
Judge Jeffrey D. Swartz
Judge Emerson Thompson
Judge Richard R. Townsend
Marjorie Gadarian Graham

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)