FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2003-24
Date of Issue: December 29, 2003

ENDORSEMENT OF COUNTY BAR ASSOCIATION PROPOSAL SEEKING APPOINTMENT OF PUBLIC GUARDIAN WHERE THE ENDORSEMENT WILL BE USED TO SOLICIT FUNDS.

ISSUES

May a Judge endorse a proposal by a county bar association seeking the appointment of a public guardian where the endorsement will be used to solicit funds?

ANSWER: No. However, a judge may promote the appointment of a public guardian providing that the endorsement is not used for fundraising.

FACTS

The inquiring judge asks whether he may endorse a county bar association's proposal for the establishment of a countywide Public Guardian. The county bar association wishes to distribute written materials seeking the appointment of a countywide Public Guardian. In its proposed advertisements, the bar association includes the following endorsement: "This program has the support of the [inquiring judge], current Probate Judge for County." The county bar association plans to distribute the advertisements regarding the county's need for a Public Guardian to the public, governmental entities and foundations to, among other things, solicit funds. If established, the position of Public Guardian will provide guardianship services for those incapacitated persons who do not have the ability to represent themselves, have no responsible person to act as their legal guardian and have no financial resources to hire a private guardian.

DISCUSSION

The use of the judge's endorsement to solicit funds constitutes a direct violation of Canon 4D(2)(d) of the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct, which provides that a judge "shall not use or permit the use of the prestige of judicial office for fundraising or membership solicitation." Nevertheless, although a judge may not endorse fundraising efforts, judicial support for the appointment of a Public Guardian is justified pursuant to Canon 4 of the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct. Canon 4 states that, "a judge may engage in activities to improve the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice." Moreover, Florida Statute Section 744.703 allows judges to participate in the decision to create an office of the Public Guardian. In this case, because the promotional materials proposed by the county bar association are intended to raise funds, the judge may not allow his name to be used in the endorsement.

The Committee concludes that the inquiring judge should not allow his endorsement of the proposal by a county bar association seeking the appointment of a countywide Public Guardian to be used to for fundraising. In this decision, we distinguish using the prestige of a judicial office to raise funds from a judge's right to exercise his or her judicial authority, allowed under the Canons, to promote the improvement of the law and the administration of justice. The former is prohibited, while the latter is encouraged.

REFERENCES

Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 4; 4D(2)(d).

Fla. Stat. 774.703.

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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 Richard R. Townsend, Acting Chair, Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, Post Office Box 1018, Green Cove Springs, Florida 32043.

Participating Members:
Judge Robert Benton, Judge Karen Cole, Judge Lisa Davidson, Judge Phyllis Kotey, Judge Melanie May, Judge Jose Rodriguez, Judge McFerrin Smith, III, 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)