FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2007-18
Date of Issue: December 4, 2007

ISSUES

(1) May the inquiring judge solicit businesses for donations of gift certificates and coupons to be used as rewards for good behavior by juveniles on probation?

ANSWER: No.

(2) May the inquiring judge solicit others to volunteer their time to serve a nonprofit organization?

ANSWER: Yes, so long as it is not violative of Canon 5C(3)(b)(ii) and (iii).

FACTS

The Inquiring Judge would like to assist the local Department of Juvenile Justice in an effort to encourage juveniles to improve their conduct while on probation by rewarding them with a gift certificate or coupon.  The Inquiring Judge asks whether it is permissible to solicit businesses for donations of coupons and gift certificates to be used as rewards for juveniles on probation. The Inquiring Judge questions whether Canon 4 of the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct prohibits such conduct. 

In addition, the Inquiring Judge asks whether it is permissible to directly solicit adults to volunteer their time to serve as mentors for Big Brothers/Big Sisters, a nonprofit organization. The Inquiring Judge however would not solicit monetary donations. 

DISCUSSION

Canon 2B specifies that “[a] judge shall not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or others.” Additionally, Canon 4D(2)(a) states in pertinent part that a judge “shall not personally participate in the solicitation of funds or other fund-raising activities.”

In Opinion 92-38, this Committee unanimously opined that the Code of Judicial Conduct does not permit a judge to solicit  coat and glove donations.  That kind of conduct is analogous to solicitation of donations of gift certificates or coupons.  Gift certificates, coupons, or gift cards are all forms of payment to facilitate the purchase of merchandise. Consequently, this form of activity is specifically prohibited.

Moreover, Canon 4A states 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; demean the judicial office; or interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties.”  Juveniles on probation may still have pending criminal cases before the court.  The juvenile may commit a new offense. Rewarding the juvenile for his/her performance while on probation may reflect adversely on the judge’s capacity to remain impartial at future hearings before the judge.

Regarding the second issue, Canon 5C(3)(b)(ii) of the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct states that a judge may solicit membership or encourage membership efforts for a nonprofit civic organization as long as the solicitation cannot reasonably be perceived as coercive and is not a fund-raising mechanism. But Canon 5C(3)(b)(iii) prohibits a judge from using the prestige of judicial office for membership solicitation.   As explained in the Commentary to Canon 5C, the danger exists when the solicited person feels obligated to please the judge who is in a position of control and influence over them.  To avoid that danger, Canon 5C(3)(b) only allows a judge to solicit other persons for membership in an organization if “neither those persons nor persons with whom they are affiliated are likely ever to appear before the court on which the judge serves.” Commentary to Canon 5C, Fla. Code Jud. Conduct.

As long as the person being solicited is not a person who comes before the Inquiring Judge, then the Inquiring Judge may educate the solicited person by explaining the positive impact volunteering would have on the mentored child as well as the community.  The act of recruiting may however appear coercive in nature and could violate Canon 5C(3)(b)(ii). If the Inquiring Judge appears to use the prestige of judicial office to accomplish this goal, then the Inquiring Judge is prohibited from engaging in membership solicitation. 

REFERENCES

Florida Code of Judicial Conduct:  Canon 2B, Canon 4A, Canon 4D(2)(a), Canon 5C(b)(3)(ii) & (iii), Commentary to Canon 5C.

Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinion: 92-38

 

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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 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 Judge Lisa Davidson, Chair, Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, The Moore Justice  Center, 2825 Judge Fran Jamieson Way, Viera, FL 32940.

Participating Members:
Judge Robert T. Benton, II, Judge Lisa Davidson,  Judge Kerry I. Evander, Judge T. Michael Jones, Judge Michael Raiden, Judge Jose Rodriquez,  Judge Leslie B. Rothenberg, Judge McFerrin Smith, Judge Richard R. Townsend, Judge Dorothy Vaccaro, Marjorie Gadarian Graham, Esquire & Patricia E. Lowry, 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
Inquiring Judge (Name of inquiring judge deleted from this copy