FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

JUDICIAL ETHICS ADVISORY COMMITTEE

Opinion Number: 00-35
Date of Issue: November 08, 2000

ISSUES

SHOULD FLORIDA JUDICIAL ETHICS ADVISORY OPINION 00-32 BE CLARIFIED TO ABROGATE THE SUGGESTION THAT PART-TIME TRAFFIC MAGISTRATES ARE COMPLETELY PROHIBITED FROM PRACTICING LAW IN THEIR CIRCUITS?

ANSWER: Yes.

FACTS

The inquirer serves as a part-time traffic magistrate in a central Florida judicial circuit. In addition to his traffic magistrate work, the inquirer maintains a private practice doing primarily domestic relations law and bankruptcy law in federal court. He does not handle any county traffic matters or any appeals from traffic court. He is concerned that the answer to the second question in Judicial Ethics Advisory Opinion 00-32 will be construed to prohibit part-time traffic magistrates from maintaining any private practice in the circuit in which they preside. The inquirer has no problem with following the dictates of Opinion 97-23, but believes that the prohibition in that opinion is not nearly so broad as that in Opinion 00-32.

DISCUSSION

As with many legal opinions, this Committee's conclusions in Opinion 00-32 were dictated by the specific facts presented in that inquiry. In that matter, the inquirer wished to serve as a part-time child support hearing officer and a part-time traffic magistrate. He also wished to maintain a private practice doing "probate, guardianship, and mental health." The first inquiry in Opinion 00-32 concerned whether a child support hearing officer could practice these particular types of matters in the same judicial circuit in which the hearing officer presided. This Committee responded in the negative, and observed that an overlap exists between family law and the areas in which the inquirer wished to practice. The Committee reaffirms that response.

In the second question in Opinion 00-32, the same inquirer asked whether a part-time traffic magistrate could continue practice in the same circuit in the areas indicated above. The question, of course, assumed that the inquirer was both a part-time traffic magistrate and a part-time child support hearing officer. Because of service as a part-time hearing officer, the inquirer was already disqualified from practicing in the areas mentioned. Accordingly, the second question had to be answered in the negative because the inquirer was already prohibited from doing the type of practice mentioned. The fact that the inquirer wished to serve as a part-time traffic magistrate only made the problem worse, as this Committee observed in its opinion.

In response to the present inquiry, the Committee wishes to clarify Opinion 00-32. A part-time traffic magistrate, in a situation similar to that of the present inquiry, may continue to handle matters other than traffic matters and appeals of traffic matters. This is consistent with the spirit of Opinion 97-23 in which this Committee found that a part-time traffic magistrate could not handle county traffic matters in any court. This Committee has not suggested in the past, and does not wish now to suggest, that a part-time traffic magistrate may not practice law at all in the same circuit where the magistrate presides.

REFERENCES
Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinions: 00-32, 97-23.
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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 Lisa D. Kahn
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)