FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2002-21
Date of Issue: August 23, 2002

PART-TIME TITLE IV CHILD SUPPORT HEARING OFFICER PRACTICING LAW IN THE SAME CIRCUIT AND SAME COUNTY IN WHICH THE HEARING OFFICER PRESIDES

ISSUES

May a part-time Title IV child support hearing officer practice law in the same circuit and same county in which the hearing officer presides as long as the officer does not practice probate, guardianship, or mental health law?
ANSWER: Yes, subject to the terms and conditions previously set out in Florida JEAC Opinions 02-03 and 02-06.

FACTS

The inquiring chief judge intends to hire a part- time Title IV child support hearing officer in the immediate future. The inquiring judge asks, "May a part-time, paid, Title IV-D Child Support Hearing Officer practice any type of law in the same circuit and same county in which the hearing officer presides as long as the officer does not practice probate, guardianship or mental health law?

DISCUSSION

This question is completely answered in Florida JEAC Opinion 02-03, as supplemented by Opinion 02-06. In Opinion 02-06, this Committee clearly stated that a paid child support hearing officer may "be permitted to practice law involving civil litigation matters that do not include family, criminal, probate, guardianship, or mental health cases in the judicial circuit where the hearing officer hears child support cases." That case involved a paid officer who sat in one county of a four-county circuit, but this Committee stated that the hearing officer may continue to practice "in the same circuit."

Opinion 02-06 amplified somewhat on earlier Opinion 02-03, which allowed a part-time pro bono family law hearing officer to practice law in the same circuit, so long as such practice did not involve family or family-type law, including probate, guardianship and mental health.

Accordingly, the present inquiry is answered in the affirmative. It appears that the inquiring judge is seeking a final black letter opinion that would allow part-time child support hearing officers to practice in any area other than family, probate, guardianship, and mental health. Although we answer the inquiry in the affirmative, the Committee cautions that the crux of our opinions is that the part-time child support officers should not practice in any area which might reasonably be expected to overlap with the family law area as specifically noted by this Committee in JEAC Opinion 00-32.

REFERENCES

Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee
Opinions: 02-06, 02-03, 00-32.

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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 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 Davidson, Kahn, Kotey, Rodriguez, Silverman, Smith, Thompson, Townsend 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)