FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2008-20
Date of Issue: October 13, 2008

ISSUE

Whether a judge may serve on an executive committee for a non-profit, charitable organization if the judge is not directly involved in fund-raising activities.

ANSWER: Yes.

FACTS

The Inquiring Judge has been asked to consider joining the executive committee of a well-known museum of American art, a non-profit charitable organization. This year, the museum separated its financial and executive decision-making functions into two (2) distinct committees. 

The museum developed a Gala Committee which handles all fundraising activities, and an Executive Committee which handles the museum acquisitions and building projects.  The Inquiring Judge would not be involved in any fundraising activities on behalf of the organization and would not be a member of the Gala Committee.  The Inquiring Judge questions whether the Code of Judicial Conduct prohibits serving on the Executive Committee of this non-profit charitable organization.

DISCUSSION

Canon 5C(3) of the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct specifically permits a judge to serve as an officer, director, trustee or non-legal advisor of any educational, religious, charitable, fraternal, sororal, or civic organization not conducted for profit.  The Code restricts a judge from such service if it is likely that the organization either will be engaged in proceedings that would ordinarily come before the judge, or will be engaged frequently in adversary proceedings in the court of which the judge is a member.  Canon 5C(3)(a). 

In Fla. JEAC Op. 06-28, the Committee opined that a judge may continue to serve as a volunteer member and officer of the board of directors of a not-for-profit rural health clinic, when the board did not participate in fundraising and there was a separate board that focused on the fundraising.   Further, in Fla. JEAC Op. 04-16, a judge may serve as a trustee of a non-profit philanthropic trust, where the judge would not be asked to provide legal advice or services and the trust is not involved in significant litigation.  And finally, in Fla. JEAC Op. 02-17, a judge may assume the presidency of a non-profit organization which has as its central focus the providing of cultural events to the citizens of the county and which benefits the community through various outreach programs.

It is clear from these opinions that the Code of Judicial Conduct encourages a judge to participate in extrajudicial activities, noting that complete separation from extrajudicial activities is neither possible nor wise. See Commentary, Code of Judicial Conduct Canon 5A.

Nothing in the Code of Judicial Conduct prohibits the Inquiring Judge from serving on this organization’s executive committee, unless the organization is engaged in proceedings that may come before the judge.  There is no indication from the inquiry that this museum is consistently involved in litigation.  Therefore, it is the opinion of this Committee that accepting a position as a member of its executive committee with this organization would not be in violation of Canon 5C(3). 

However, as suggested in the Commentary to Canon 5C(3)(a), the Inquiring Judge should regularly reexamine the activities of this organization while a member.  “The changing nature of some organizations and of their relationship to the law makes it necessary for a judge to regularly reexamine the activities of [each] organization with which the judge is affiliated in order to determine if it is proper for the judge to continue the affiliation.”   Commentary, Code of Judicial Conduct Canon 5C(3)(a).

REFERENCES

Florida Code of Judicial Conduct Canon 5C(3), 5C(3)(a) & Commentary to Canon 5A & Canon 5C(3)(a)

Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinions: 02-17, 04-16, & 06-28.

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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 C. McFerrin Smith, III, Chair, Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, 101 N. Alabama Avenue, Suite 437, Deland, FL 32724.

Participating Members:
Judge Roberto Arias, Judge Robert T. Benton, Dean Bunch, Esquire, Judge Lisa Davidson, Judge Kerry I. Evander, Judge T. Michael Jones, Patricia E. Lowry, Esquire, Judge Jose Rodriguez, Judge Leslie B. Rothenberg, Judge C. McFerrin Smith, III, Judge Richard R. Townsend, 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)