FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2004-12
Date of Issue: March 5, 2004

ISSUES

Whether a circuit court judge may serve on the Governmental Commission on Marriage and Family Support Initiatives.

ANSWER: Yes.

FACTS

The Judge's inquiry concerns an appointment to the State's Commission on Marriage and Family Support Initiatives ("Commission"). The governmental Commission is a reconstitution of the Commission on Responsible Fatherhood ("CRF"). House Bill 1515 created the new Commission in 2003. The Commission's goals include education on legal matters that affect the needs of families and children as well as the creation of strategies to promote safe family living, violence free relationships, substance abuse free families, and nurturing, respectful, and responsible parenting. The Commission will provide education on the rights and expectations of the affected individuals in case a marriage fails. It will also provide family separation safety planning and mediation techniques. The Commission will also serve as a clearinghouse for information related to violence and its adverse effects on children and families. The Commission will work with Courts and other community centers as well as adult and juvenile criminal justice systems and child support services to improve the administration of justice.

DISCUSSION

Canon 5(C)(2) of the Code of Judicial Conduct states that: "A Judge shall not accept appointment to a governmental committee or commission…that is concerned with issues of fact or policy on matters other than the improvement of the law, the legal system or the administration of justice." Because the work of the inquiring Judge on this commission meets the criteria set forth in Cannon 5(C)(2), the inquiring Judge should be allowed to serve on the Commission.

In Fla. JEAC Op. 87-20, we said that a Judge may serve as a member and chair of a county criminal justice advisory board to study and advise the County Commissioners about a new jail facility and to examine the status of every inmate of the county jail. There we found that the duties of the advisory board related to new jail facilities, a law related matter, in which the Judge would have valuable input because of the Judge's background and experience. Similarly, in Fla. JEAC Op. 98-26 we found that a Judge may serve in a leadership capacity on the Mayor's Victims' Assistance Advisory Council (VAAC) because the mission of the VAAC met the scope of Cannon 5(C)(2), to wit: to ensure and enhance the rights of crime victims by providing a forum for the public and private community to work together for the development and implementation of effective programs dealing with safety, education, prevention, and intervention. The Commission's work also furthers the intent and spirit of the Florida Supreme Court's Opinion In re: REPORT of the FAMILY COURT STEERING COMMITTEE, 794 So.2d 518 (Fla. 2001).

In conclusion, we find that the inquiring Judge may accept an appointment to the Commission on Marriage and Family Support Initiatives because the work of the Commission meets the requirements of Cannon 5(C)(2), as it involves the "improvement of the law, the legal system and the administration of justice."

REFERENCES

In re: REPORT of the FAMILY COURT STEERING COMMITTEE, 794 So.2d 518 (Fla. 2001)

Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 5(C)(2)

Fla. JEAC Op. 87-20 and 98-26

_____________

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 Karen Cole, Judge Lisa Davidson, Judge Melanie May, Judge McFerrin Smith, III, Judge Richard R. Townsend, Ervin Gonzalez, Esquire, and Marjorie Gadarian Graham, Esquire.


Copies furnished to:
Justice Peggy Quince
Thomas D. Hall, Clerk of Supreme Court
All Committee Members
Executive Director of the J.Q.C.
Office of the State Courts Administrator
(Name of inquiring judge deleted from this copy)