FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2004-14
Date of Issue: April 26, 2004

ISSUES

May a judge participate in a local criminal advisory committee that would bring together representatives of various entities involved in disposition of felony, misdemeanor, and traffic cases?

ANSWER: Yes.

FACTS

The inquiring judge contemplates implementing a local Criminal Advisory Committee that would include representatives from the offices of the State Attorney and Public Defender, the criminal defense bar, the Sheriff's department, local law enforcement, felony and misdemeanor probation departments, clerk of the court, court administrator's office, the department of motor vehicles, and drug and alcohol treatment providers involved in disposition of felony, misdemeanor, and traffic cases.

The overall purpose of the Criminal Advisory Committee would be to enhance communications, facilitate problem solving, and improve the overall effectiveness of the criminal justice system. The committee would meet quarterly or more frequently. Contemplated agendas would include discussion of problems involving the disposition of criminal and traffic cases including, for example, the issuance of subpoenas and coordinating witness appearance, restitution programs, jail population updates, facilitating discovery, jury selection and management, implementing DUI and drug courts, the handling of sudden caseload increases, and the impact of new legislation and appellate case law. Specifics of individual cases and/or defendants would never be discussed.

DISCUSSION

Canon 4 provides that "A judge may engage in activities to improve the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice." Canon 4A stipulates that "A judge shall conduct all of the judge's quasi-judicial activities so that they do not cast reasonable doubt on the judge's capacity to act impartially as a judge; demean the judicial office; or interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties." The Commentary to Canon 4A points out that "A judge is encouraged to participate in activities designed to improve the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice."

Canon 4B provides that "A judge may speak, write, lecture, teach and participate in other quasi activities concerning the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice, subject to the requirements of this Code." The Commentary to Canon 4B recognizes that, "As a judicial officer and person specially learned in the law, a judge is in a unique position to contribute to the improvement of the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice, including, but not limited to, the improvement of the role of the judiciary as an independent branch of government, the revision of substantive and procedural law, the improvement of criminal and juvenile justice, and the improvement of justice in the areas of civil, criminal, family, domestic violence, juvenile delinquency, juvenile dependency, probate and motor vehicle law. To the extent that time permits, a judge is encouraged to do so, either independently or through a bar association, judicial conference or other organization dedicated to the improvement of the law."

Canon 4D provides in pertinent part that:
A judge may serve as a member, officer, director, trustee or non-legal advisor of an organization or government agency devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system or the administration of justice, subject to the following limitations and other requirements of this Code:
(1) A judge shall not serve as an officer, director, trustee or non-legal advisor if it is likely that the organization

(a) will be engaged in proceedings that would ordinarily come before the judge, or
(b) will be engaged frequently in adversary proceedings in the court of which the judge is a member or in any court subject to the appellate jurisdiction of the court of which the judge is a member.

Along with the stipulation outlined in Canon 4D(1)(b), the Commentary to Canon 4D(1) sets forth a caveat for judges participating in committees, as in the issue at hand. The Commentary cautions, "The changing nature of some organizations and of their relationship to the law makes it necessary for a judge regularly to reexamine the activities of each organization with which the judge is affiliated to determine if it is proper for the judge to continue the affiliation. For example, the boards of some legal aid organizations now make policy decisions that may have political significance or imply commitment to causes that may come before the courts for adjudication."

Canon 5 provides that "A judge shall regulate extrajudicial activities to minimize the risk of conflict with judicial duties." Canon 5A requires that "A judge shall conduct all of the judge's extra-judicial activities so that they do not cast reasonable doubt on the judge's capacity to act impartially; demean the judicial office; or interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties."

This Committee has approved judges' participation in extra-judicial activities in a number of opinions: Fla. JEAC Op. 98-09 (participation in the establishment of a county Community Justice Coalition), Fla. JEAC Op. 98-31 (participation in a voluntary bar organization that advocates passage of a constitutional amendment), Fla. JEAC Op. 99-21 (participation in partners in crisis), Fla. JEAC Op. 03-01 (serving in leadership capacity of a community based nonprofit organization), Fla. JEAC Op. 01-07 (serving on the board of advisors for a professional reference publication dedicated to the criminal justice system and the mentally ill), Fla. JEAC Op. 04-03 (participation in a court program involving eviction cases), Fla. JEAC Op. 04-04 (participation in a committee to honor a member of the district court of appeal), Fla. JEAC Op. 04-05 (appointment from a local legislative body to its advisory Commission on the Status of Woman), and Fla. JEAC Op. 04-12 (serving on Governmental Commission on Marriage and Family Support Initiatives). However, because of a potential for conflict, this Committee recommended resignation from a hospital ethics committee. Fla. JEAC Op. 03-07.

In conclusion, the inquiring judge may participate in a Criminal Advisory Committee so long as participation in the committee does not cast reasonable doubt on the judge's capacity to act impartially or interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties. However, the judge should periodically re-evaluate the status of the judge's affiliation with the committee.

REFERENCES

Fla Code of Jud Conduct: Canons 4 and 5
Fla. JEAC Op. 98-09
Fla. JEAC Op. 98-31
Fla. JEAC Op. 99-21
Fla. JEAC Op. 01-07
Fla. JEAC Op. 03-01
Fla. JEAC Op. 03-07
Fla. JEAC Op. 04-03
Fla. JEAC Op. 04-04
Fla. JEAC Op. 04-05
Fla. JEAC Op. 04-12

_____________

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 Melanie May, 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
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)