FLORIDA SUPREME COURT
Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee
Opinion Number: 2008-16 (Election)1
Date of Issue: August 26, 2008
(1) May a candidate for election to judicial office hire a partisan political candidate running for a different office to be the judicial candidate's campaign manager/ consultant?
(2) May a candidate for election to judicial office hire an executive officer of a partisan political committee to be the judicial candidate's campaign manager/ consultant?
The inquiring candidate asks whether a partisan political candidate running for a different office or an executive officer of a partisan political party may be employed by the candidate as a campaign manager/ consultant.
Both Canon 7 of the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct and section 105.071, Florida Statutes (2008), unequivocally prohibit judicial candidates and sitting judges (whether running or not) from becoming involved in partisan politics. See also In re Alley, 699 So. 2d 1369 (Fla. 1997) (judicial candidate may not inject party politics into non-partisan election). Further-more, a candidate for judicial office may not take action which would suggest that the candidate is endorsed by a partisan political party or is running on the same slate as another candidate. In re Kay, 508 So. 2d 329 (Fla. 1987) (judge's use of sample ballots was improper because it gave appearance that partisan political party endorsed his candidacy and because it gave appearance that judicial candidate had been endorsed by other judicial candidates); see also JEAC Op. 04-29 (judicial candidates running for different judicial seats prohibited from mailing their individual campaign brochures in single envelope notwithstanding written disclaimer that judicial candidates were not endorsing each other).
Accordingly, in response to the first question, we believe that employing a partisan political candidate as a judicial candidate's campaign manager/consultant would improperly give the appearance that the judicial candidate and the partisan political candidate were "running on the same slate" and otherwise endorsing the other's candidacy.
The second question presents a closer issue because the individual being considered for employment as the judicial candidate's manager/consultant is not running for office. Two members of the elections subcommittee believe that such action would improperly inject partisan politics into the campaign because the judicial candidate would likely have access (or would be perceived to have access) to the resources and materials of the partisan political committee for which the prospective campaign manager/consultant serves as executive officer. These two subcommittee members further believe that the employment of an executive officer of a partisan political committee in the high profile role of campaign manager could create the public perception that the judicial candidate was seeking the support, or had sought the support, of that partisan political committee. However, the third member of the subcommittee believes that a judicial candidate may employ this individual as a campaign manager or consultant, provided that the judicial candidate take all steps necessary to ensure 1) the campaign manager/consultant does not utilize the resources, facilities, or materials of the partisan political committee while working on behalf of the judicial candidate, and 2) the campaign manager/consultant is held out as working for the judicial candidate in his (or her) individual capacity and not in his (or her) role as an executive officer of a partisan political committee.
In re Alley, 699 So. 2d 1369 (Fla. 1997); In re Kay, 508 So. 2d 329 (Fla. 1987); § 105.071, Fla. Stat. (2008), Florida Code of Judicial Conduct Canon 7; JEAC Op. 04-29.
An Aid to Understanding Canon 7
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 C. McFerrin Smith, III, Chair, Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, 101 N. Alabama Avenue, Suite 437, Deland, FL 32724.
(Elections Subcommittee); Judge Kerry I. Evander, Judge T. Michael Jones, and Judge Richard Townsend.
Copies furnished to:
Inquiring judge (Name of the Inquiring Judge deleted)
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
1.The Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee has appointed an Election Practices Subcommittee. The purpose of this subcommittee is to provide immediate responses to campaign questions in instances where the normal Committee procedure would not provide a response in time to be useful to the inquiring candidate or judge. Opinions designated with the “(Election)” notation are opinions of the Election Practices Subcommittee of the Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, and have the same authority as an opinion of the Committee.