FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2004-04
Date of Issue: January 16, 2004

ISSUES

Whether an active circuit or county court judge may participate on a committee to honor a member of the district court of appeal?

ANSWER: Yes.

FACTS

The inquiring judge has been asked to serve on a committee whose purpose is to "seek formal recognition of the good deeds" of a member of the court of appeal in the same jurisdiction. The committee intends to seek dedication of a building or other public feature in the name of the district court of appeal judge. The inquiring judge expresses two concerns: (1) the honoree's jurisdiction encompasses the circuit in which the inquiring judge sits; and (2) participating on the committee exhibits public support for an official subject to merit retention.

DISCUSSION

The Preamble of the Code of Judicial Conduct provides:

The role of the judiciary is central to American concepts of justice and the rule of law. Intrinsic to all sections of this Code are the precepts that judges, individually and collectively, must respect and honor the judicial office as a public trust and strive to enhance and maintain confidence in our legal system.

Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Preamble.

This committee has been asked on numerous occasions to address the ability of judges to participate in variety of activities. The answers are as varied as the activities in question. Canon 4D provides some guidance in this instance. It states that "[a] judge may serve as a member, officer, director, trustee or non-legal advisor of an organization or governmental agency devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice . . . ." Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 4D.

Cognizant of the restrictions placed upon the judiciary by the Code of Judicial Conduct, it would appear that honoring a member of the judiciary who has found the time, energy, and means to do "good deeds" falls within the parameters of improving the legal system, for it calls public attention to and promotes public confidence in the judiciary as public servants. In fact, in a prior opinion from this committee, it was noted "that in light of the Supreme Court's announced desire that judges become more active in areas of enhancing the image of the judiciary, it would appear that participation . . . is encouraged within the bounds of the Canons." See Fla. Judicial Ethics Advisory Comm., Op. 98-26.

We find no provision in the Code that would prohibit the judge's participation on the committee because the honoree is in a position to review decisions of the inquiring judge. And, while Canon 7 prohibits a judge from publicly endorsing "another candidate for public office", we do not find that participation on this committee constitutes a "public endorsement." Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 7A(1)(b).

It is unclear from the inquiry whether any fund-raising will be required. If it is, then three provisions of the Code should be heeded. Earlier this year, the committee addressed the flip side of the question presented here. We opined that a sitting judge may not be honored by permitting a not-for-profit organization to solicit funds for a scholarship in the judge's name. See Fla. Judicial Ethics Advisory Comm., Op. 03-05. We acknowledged the admirable goal of providing scholarship funds, and at the same time honoring a judge for his contribution to the law, but found that Canon 2B of the Code of Judicial Conduct prevented the judge from lending "the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of others." The inquiring judge in this instance, while not the honoree, must also be careful not to use the "prestige" of the judicial office for fund-raising.

Pursuant to Canon 4, however, a judge may assist "in planning fund-raising . . ., but shall not personally participate in the solicitation of funds or other fund-raising activities, except that a judge may solicit funds from other judges over whom the judge does not exercise supervisory or appellate authority." Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 4D(2)(a). Further, subsection D(2)(d) reiterates the prohibition against a judge using or permitting "the use of the prestige of judicial office for fund-raising . . . ." Fla. Code of Jud. Conduct, Canon 4D(2)(a). Should the committee engage in fund-raising to achieve its goal, the judge must adhere to these canons.

REFERENCES

Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Preamble and Canons 4D, 7A(1)(b).

Fla. Judicial Ethics Advisory Comm., Ops. 03-05, 98-26.

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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 McFerrin Smith, III, Judge Emerson R. Thompson, Jr. Judge Richard R. Townsend, 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)