FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2008-05
Date of Issue: February 15, 2008

ISSUE

Whether a judge may serve as a trustee or executor for a long-term friend where the friend is an out-of-state resident, the situs of the estate and trust will be out-of-state, and it is highly unlikely that any legal proceedings would occur in Florida.

ANSWER: No.

FACTS

A long-term friend has asked the Judge to serve as a trustee of the friend’s trust and the executor of the friend’s estate.  The situs of the estate and trust would be in a different state and the friend is an out-of-state resident.  It is highly unlikely that any legal proceedings would occur in Florida.  The Inquiring Judge asked if it would be permissible to serve as a trustee of the friend's trust and the executor of the friend's estate.

DISCUSSION

Canon 5E(1), Florida Code of Judicial Conduct, provides:

A judge shall not serve as executor, administrator or other personal representative, trustee, guardian, attorney in fact or other fiduciary, except for the estate, trust or person of a member of a judge's family, and then only if such service will not interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties.

By its express terms, this Canon prohibits a judge from serving as an executor or trustee for a non-family member.  The Canon does not provide for exception even where it is unlikely that any legal proceedings would occur in Florida.  The Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee has consistently interpreted this Canon to prohibit a judge from serving in a fiduciary capacity for a non-family member.  See JEAC Ops., 74-10, 75-16, 75-19, 91-16, 92-18, 97-4, 03-12, 05‑3.

REFERENCES

Fla. Code Jud. Conduct,
Canon 5E(1).
JEAC Ops. 74-10, 75-16, 75-19, 91-16, 92-18, 97-4, 03-12, 05‑3.

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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 Rodriguez, Judge Leslie B. Rothenberg, Judge McFerrin Smith, Judge, 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)