FLORIDA SUPREME COURT
Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee
Opinion Number: 2002-20
Date of Issue: August 21, 2002
JUDGE REPORTING GIFTS RECEIVED FROM HIS OR HER SPOUSE, CHILDREN, SIBLINGS, AND CLOSE PERSONAL FRIENDS.
Does the Code of Judicial Conduct require a Judge to report gifts received from his or her spouse, children, siblings, and close personal friends?
The inquiring Judge asks whether he or she must report gifts received from the spouse, children, siblings, and close personal friends or the Judge is only required to report gifts from other donors that exceed $100.00. The Judge notes Canon 5D(5)(a)-(g) do not mention a requirement to report gifts received from the enumerated persons. In contrast, the Judge notes that subsection (h) addresses reporting of gifts received pursuant to that provision. The Judge also notes that it appears he or she does not have to report the gifts received pursuant to subsections (a) through (g), however, the Judge is concerned about the Committee's prior Opinion 91-7. The Judge asserts that Opinion 91-7 implies that gifts from relatives or close personal friends received on special occasions must be reported.
Canon 5D(5) states in pertinent part:
A judge shall not accept, and shall urge members of the judge's family residing in the judge's household not to accept a gift, bequest, favor or loan from anyone except for:...
(d) a gift from a relative or friend, for a special occasion, such as a wedding, anniversary or birthday, if the gift is fairly commensurate with the occasion and the relationship;
(e) a gift, bequest, favor or loan from a relative or close personal friend whose appearance or interest in a case would in any event require disqualification under Canon 3E;...
(h) any other gift, bequest, favor or loan, only if: the donor is not a party or other person who has come or is likely to come or whose interest have come or are likely to come before the judge; and, if its value, or the aggregate value in a calendar year of such gifts, bequests, favors, or loans from a single source, exceeds $100.00, the judge reports it in the same manner as the judge reports gifts under Section 6B(2).
Canon 6B(2) states that "[a] judge shall file a public report of all gifts which are required to be disclosed under Canon 5D(5)(h) of the Code of Judicial Conduct."
In Opinion 91-7, eight members of the Committee opined that baby shower gifts should be reported the same as any other gifts falling under the provisions of Canons 5D(5) and 6. The opinion further explained, "[f]or example, you do not have to disclose gifts from relatives and you should not accept gifts from a person whose interests may come before you in the immediate future." Fla. JEAC Op. 91-7 (emphasis added). In 1994, the Committee reaffirmed that gifts from relatives do not need to be reported. See Fla. JEAC Op. 94-18 (opining that judge does not need to report gift from father or bequest from mother's estate). The Committee recedes from JEAC Op. 91-7, to the extent that it may require reporting of a gift from a non-relative friend, if the gift is for a special occasion and is fairly commensurate with the occasion and the relationship. It also should be noted that Canon 5(D)5(C) does not have the qualifying language of "close" friend, friendship that would require disqualification under Canon 3E, or a person who "has come or is likely to come or whose interests have come, or are likely to come before the judge." Therefore, a gift from a non-relative friend who is not a close friend (such as to require disqualification) must be reported only if it is not commensurate with the occasion and relationship, and its value exceeds $100.00, and is otherwise acceptable under Canon 5(D)5(h).
In summary, gifts described in (a) through (g) of 5(D)(5) need not be reported. The Judge must only report gifts that fall under the provisions of Canon 5D(5)(h), if the aggregate value exceeds $100.00, rather than every gift received from the spouse, children, siblings, and close personal friends.
Florida Code of Judicial Conduct Canons 5D(5)(d), (e), and (h) and 6B(2).
Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinions: 91-7 and 94-18.
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 Jeffrey D. Swartz, Chair, Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, Eleventh Judicial Circuit, Miami Beach District Courthouse, 1130 Washington Ave, Miami, FL 33139
Participating Members: Judges Rodriguez, Davidson, Kahn, Townsend, Smith, Swartz and Silverman; and Attorneys Gonzales and Graham
Copies furnished to:
Chief 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)