FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2003-16
Date of Issue: October 15, 2003

JUDGE'S PARTICIPATION IN VOLUNTARY BAR ASSOCIATION'S FUNDRAISING EVENT.

ISSUES

Whether a judge may ethically partipate in a voluntary bar association's fundraising event by providing goods (including artwork or crafts made by the judge) for sale or auction, performing a skit, displaying a talent being a model, or otherwise performing at the event.

ANSWER: No.

FACTS

The inquiring Chief Judge on behalf of the administrative judges of his/her circuit requests guidance from the Committee regarding judges' participation in a voluntary bar association's fund-raising activities. The association includes judges and lawyers as members, and membership is strictly voluntary. The association is sponsoring a fund-raising event. Judges have been asked to provide goods (including artwork or crafts made by the judge) for sale or auction at the event, perform in a skit, display a talent, model, or otherwise perform at the fund-raising event. Participation by individual judges will not be advertised, but the advertisements for the event will note that judges and lawyers are participating in the event. Judges will not be the featured speakers or guests of honor. The activities that the judges are asked to participate in do not involve direct solicitation of the members of the association, selling tickets to the fund-raiser, finding sponsors for the fund-raiser, or otherwise directly soliciting support for the event.

DISCUSSION

Canon 4 of the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct has historically permitted judges to participate in activities designed to improve the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice. In February 2003, the Florida Supreme Court made a more definitive statement in this regard by amending the Commentary to Canon 4A of the Code of Judicial Conduct to state that judges are "encouraged" to participate in such activities. Code of Judicial Conduct, 840 So. 2d 1023 (Fla. 2003) In addition, the Commentary to Canon 4B states in part that "[t]o the extent that time permits, a judge is encouraged to do so, either independently or through a bar association...

The Committee agrees with the inquiring Chief Judge that voluntary bar associations serve a vital role in maintaining communications between the court and the bar, and in improving the administration of justice in a circuit. Participation in voluntary bar associations is an important way that judges can remain involved in the legal community and contribute to improvements in the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice.

However, Canon 4 is also clear that judges are prohibited from soliciting funds or lending the prestige of their office for fund-raising even if the activity falls within the parameters of activities that improve the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice. Canon 4D(2)(a) of the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct specifically states that a judge shall not personally participate in the solicitation of funds or other fund-raising activities, except a judge may solicit funds from other judges over whom the judge does not exercise supervisory or appellate authority. Moreover, Canon 4D(2)(d) expressly states that a judge shall not use or permit the use of the prestige of judicial office for fund-raising.

There are many ways that judges may ethically participate in activities sponsored by voluntary bar associations. Judges may assist a bar association in planning fund-raisers, decorating or helping set up for a fund-raising event, speaking at a continuing legal education seminar for the bar association as long as it is not a fund-raiser, or serving on committees. Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 4D(2)(a); JEAC Ops. 01-09, 99-27. Judges may also donate items to a voluntary bar association's fund-raiser as long as the items do not specify that the item was donated by a judge. JEAC Op. 01-09.

However, judges may not publicly engage in fund-raising activities. To do so would place lawyers in an uncomfortable position of feeling perceived pressure to donate financially to the activity due to the participation of judges. This is the very reason why Canon 4, although encouraging judges to participate in activities that improve the law, nevertheless prohibits them from publicly engaging in fund-raising activities.

REFERENCES

Code of Judicial Conduct, 840 So. 2d 1023 (Fla. 2003)
Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 4, Commentary to Canon 4A, Commentary to Canon 4B
Fla. JEAC Op. 01-09
Fla. JEAC Op. 99-27

_____________

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 Phyllis D. Kotey, Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, Eighth Judicial Circuit, Alachua County Courthouse, 201 East University Avenue, Room 205, Gainesville, Florida 32601.

Participating Members:
Judge Robert Benton, Judge Karen Cole, Judge Lisa Davidson, Judge Jose Rodriguez, Judge McFerrin Smith, III, Judge Jeffrey D. Swartz, Judge Emerson R. Thompson, Jr. Judge Richard R. Townsend, , Ervin Gonzalez, Esquire, and Marjorie Gadarian Graham, Esquire.


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)