FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2006-23
Date of Issue: September 19, 2006

ISSUES

May a judge serve as a member of a county’s affordable housing advisory board and as a board member of a county’s public policy institute, which appoints members to the affordable housing advisory board?

ANSWER: Yes.

FACTS

The inquiring judge serves as a board member of the county’s Public Policy Institute (PPI).  The PPI is a non-profit, non-partisan, organization dedicated to advancing public interest, building democracy, enhancing community, and improving the quality of life by involving citizens in the process.

The PPI appoints members to the Affordable Housing Advisory Board (AHAB).  The purpose of the AHAB is to address the availability of safe, adequate, affordable and work force housing to meet the needs of present and future residents of the county.

Neither the PPI nor the AHAB is a governmental committee, commission, or agency nor will the inquiring judge personally  participate in fundraising or membership solicitation.

DISCUSSION

The activity referenced above is an extrajudicial activity and not a quasijudicial activity.  As such, the conduct is regulated by Canon 5 of the Code of Judicial Conduct.

Canon 5(B) provides as follows:

A judge is encouraged to speak, write, lecture, teach, and participate in other extrajudicial activities concerning non-legal subjects, subject to the requirements of this Code.

The commentary to Canon 5 sets forth the rationale of the foregoing language encouraging participation in extrajudicial activities:

Complete separation of a judge from extrajudicial activities is neither possible  nor wise; a judge should not become isolated from the community in which the judge lives.  For that reason, judges are encouraged to participate in extrajudicial community activities.

Therefore, the only limitation upon extrajudicial participation in the PPI or AHAB would be the Canon 5(B) clause which states, “subject to the requirements of this Code,” and Canon 5(C) which states that a person may serve as a director of such an organization “subject to ..... other requirements of this Code.”  Some of the restrictions set forth in Canon 5 to participation in this extrajudicial activity are summarized as follows:

          a.       The organization should not be  engaged in proceedings that ordinarily come before the judge.

          b.       The organization should not frequently be engaged in adversary proceedings in the court of which the judge is a member.

          c.       A judge should not appear at a public hearing before, or consult with, a legislative or executive body or official.

          d.       A judge should not be a legal advisor to the organization.

          e.       A judge may not personally participate in solicitation of funds or other fundraising activities.

          f.       A judge may not personally participate in membership solicitation if the solicitation might reasonably be perceived as coercive or is essentially a fundraising mechanism.

          g.       The activity must not cast reasonable doubt as to the judge’s capacity to act impartially as a judge, must not demean the judicial office, nor interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties.

          h.       The organization must not be a governmental committee, commission, or agency unless it is concerned with issues of fact or policy involving the improvement of the law, the judicial branch, or the administration of justice.

          From the facts submitted, it appears that the contemplated extrajudicial activities of the inquiring judge are encouraged by the Code.

REFERENCES

Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 5, 5(B), 5(C) and Commentary to Canon 5.

_____________

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 the judge or judicial candidate. Its opinions are advisory to the inquiring party, to the Judicial Qualifications Commission and 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 Qualifications 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 Robert T. Benton, II, Chair, Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, 301  S. MLK Jr. Blvd. Tallahassee, FL 32399.

Participating Members:
Judge Robert T. Benton, II, Judge Lisa Davidson, Marjorie Gadarian Graham, Esquire, Judge T. Michael Jones, Patricia E. Lowry, Esquire, Judge Michael Raiden,  Judge Jose Rodriguez,  Judge Leslie B. Rothenberg, Judge McFerrin Smith, III, , Judge Emerson R. Thompson, Jr., Judge Richard R. Townsend, and Judge Dorothy Vaccaro.


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
Inquiring Judge (Name of inquiring judge deleted from this copy)