FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2004-38
Date of Issue: December 22, 2004

ISSUES

Does the Code of Judicial Conduct establish numerical limits for vacation time for a circuit or county judge?

ANSWER: No.

Does the Code of Judicial Conduct, directly or indirectly, address the issue of excessive or unreasonable vacation time?

ANSWER: Yes.

FACTS

The inquiring judge asks: What is the maximum amount of vacation time that a circuit or county judge may take during a twelve-month period?

DISCUSSION

The Code does not set a limit on the number of vacation days that judges may take, nor is there a statute, administrative rule, or section of the Personnel Regulations Manual of the Florida State Courts System ("Personnel Manual") which establishes the number of vacation days that judges may take during a calendar year. In fact, under section 26.37, Florida Statutes, judges are mandated to attend court only two days of the year: the opening of court for the Spring and Fall terms. Furthermore, judges are specifically exempted from the attendance and leave provisions of section 4 of the Personnel Manual. 1 Moreover, judges and their personal staffs are not in leave-accruing positions like other state employees. See ' 110.205(2)(c), Fla. Stat. We conclude that judges must use their discretion to determine the number of vacation days that the judge may take annually.

Although vacation time is a matter of discretion, that discretion is circumscribed. The Florida Constitution requires that the "courts shall be open to every person for redress of any injury, and justice shall be administered without sale, denial or delay." Art. I, ' 21, Fla. Const. "Judges . . . have a professional obligation to conclude litigation as soon as it is reasonably and justly possible to do so." Fla. R. Jud. Admin. 2.085(a). To this end, the rule creates time standards, provides for monitoring compliance with the time standards, and provides for the determination of the need for additional judges based upon the assumption that existing judges are doing their fair share. See Florida Rules of Judicial Administration 2.085(e), 2.035. As a matter of judicial ethics, the standards, provided by Canon 3, are high: "The judicial duties of judges take precedence over all their other activities." Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 3A. The Committee interprets Canon 3A to be a clear, forceful, and important statement of priorities. Canon 3A implies that judges must discharge their duties as constitutional officers before taking a vacation and must schedule their vacation days in a manner consistent with the needs of the court.

Other provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct demonstrate the priority placed on the proper administration of justice: A judge shall dispose of all judicial matters promptly, efficiently, and fairly.@ Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 3B(8). A judge shall diligently discharge the judge's administrative responsibilities . . . and should cooperate with other judges and court officials in the administration of court business.@ Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 3C(1). Cooperation of the kind required by Canon 3C(1) may entail scheduling vacations to accommodate other judges' schedules and taking vacations in conformity with circuit court policy, particularly where a circuit's policy has been incorporated into an administrative order or a local court rule.

Judges must also inform the chief judge of the circuit of any contemplated absences that might affect the progress of the court's business. Rule 2.050(b)(4), Fla. R. Jud. Admin. The chief judge of each circuit is the administrative supervisor over all courts in the circuit and is responsible for the efficient and proper administration of justice of all the courts within that district. Rule 2.050(b)(2), Fla. R. Jud. Admin. A judge who takes excessive or unreasonable vacation time could interfere with the administration of justice in a circuit and could be subject to disciplinary proceedings before the Judicial Qualifications Commission. See Article V, Section 12 of the Florida Constitution.

Although the Code does not expressly limit the number of vacation days that judges may ethically take in a year, judges must be guided by the provisions of the Code discussed in this opinion, which collectively require judges to be responsible and reasonable. It would be improper, and a violation of the Code, for judges to take vacation time if it interfered with the proper performance of judicial duties or created an appearance of impropriety.

REFERENCES

Art. I, ' 21, Fla. Const.
Art. V, ' 12, Fla. Const.
Fla. Code Jud. Conduct: Canons 3, 3A, 3B(8), & 3C(1)
Fla. R. Jud. Admin.: 2.050(b)(2), 2.050(b)(4), 2.085(a)
Fla. Stat.: ' 26.37, 110.205(2)(c)

_____________

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 Michael Raiden, Judge Melanie May, Judge McFerrin Smith, III, Judge Dorothy Vaccaro, Judge Emerson R. Thompson, Jr., Judge Richard R. Townsend, and Ervin Gonzalez, 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)

1. See Personnel Regulations Manual Florida State Courts System, Summary of Regulations Applicable to Personal Staff of Judicial Officers, page v.