FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2008-07
Date of Issue: March 25, 2008

ISSUE

Whether the Inquiring Judge may contribute financially to defray the campaign costs of a candidate for a seat on a Florida university’s student government.

ANSWER: Yes.

FACTS

The child of the Inquiring Judge’s judicial assistant is a candidate for a student government position at a Florida university.  Only students of the university may vote in the election.  The Inquiring Judge seeks an opinion as to the propriety of donating funds to help defray the costs of the child’s election efforts.

DISCUSSION

The Inquiring Judge is concerned that donating financially to a candidate for student government would run afoul of the prohibitions in Canon 7A(1)(e).  That Canon states that a judge, judicial officer, or judicial candidate shall not “make a contribution to a political organization or candidate.”  Id.see also Fla. JEAC Ops. 03-09; 94-08; 84-20.  The Committee concludes that the “Inappropriate Political Activity” proscribed by Canon 7 does not include a contribution to a candidate for a student government position at a Florida university.  The letter and spirit of Canon 7 clearly suggest that a judge, judicial officer, or candidate for judicial office must not become entangled in partisan political activities or any race for a political or public office.  Because a seat on a Florida university’s student government is not a political or public office, and a student government election is not a partisan activity, the Inquiring Judge’s suggested contribution does not raise any of the concerns addressed by Canon 7A(1)(e), and is more closely analogous to a donation to a fundraising activity.

The Committee believes that the Inquiring Judge may make the contribution to the student government candidate.  However, the judge should do so on the condition of anonymity.  “A judge shall not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or others[.]”  Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 2B.  Furthermore, a judge must avoid financial dealings that “may reasonably be perceived to exploit the judge’s judicial position.”  Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 5D(1)(a).  Consistent with these principles, past opinions of this Committee have concluded that before a judge donates items or money to a charitable fundraising event, the judge must ensure that the recipient does not reveal the source of the contribution.  See Fla. JEAC Ops. 07-04 (judge must decline to donate “identifiable” custom knives to community fundraising events); 01-09 (source of judge’s auction donation could not be revealed by recipient organization); 91-06 (judge may donate to college anonymously where donation will be used to solicit matching funds).

The Inquiring Judge states that the contribution would be used solely to defray the costs of the student government candidate’s election effort; nevertheless, the potential exists for the candidate to solicit additional contributions by impermissibly exploiting the Inquiring Judge’s judicial position.  Therefore, before contributing financially to the student government candidate’s election effort, the Inquiring Judge must take reasonable steps to ensure that the judge’s identity will not be released.  Otherwise, the prestige of the judiciary could be injected into the student government candidate’s fundraising activity.

REFERENCES

Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canons 2B, 5, 5D(1)(a), 7, 7A(1)(e).

Fla. JEAC Ops. 07-04, 03-09, 01-09, 94-08, 91-06, 84-20.

_____________

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 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)