FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2008-22
Date of Issue: November 14, 2008

ISSUE

Whether the inquiring Judge may appear as a “dignitary guest” in a fund-raising ballet production, sponsored by a ballet company which is organized as a charitable organization, and allow the production to use the judge’s name and title to advertise the event.

ANSWER: No.

FACTS

The inquiring judge has been asked by a tax exempt ballet company to be a guest actor at their Nutcracker production. The ballet company wishes to have the judge appear as a “dignitary” and refer to the inquiring judge’s title.  The ballet company is charging admission to the play.  The inquiring judge would have a cameo role in the play and would be referred to in the program, as well as in advertisement of the event.

DISCUSSION

Canon 5 regulates a Judge’s extra judicial conduct such as that posed by this inquiry.  There have been a number of prior JEAC opinions which have described which sort of community activities may be appropriate, as long as they are conducted in a way that does not cast doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially and otherwise does not violate other provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct.  This Committee has previously opined that the conduct subject to this inquiry is not permitted.  See, JEAC Ops. 88-05, 88-31, 98-32, 99-09, 00-17, 01-09, 05-07 and 05-09.

Canon 4 has been recently amended to allow judges to participate in certain law related fund- raising activities, so long as participation in such activities is consistent with other provisions of the code.  See, In re: Amendments To The Code Of Judicial Conduct-Limitations On Judges’ Participation In Fundraising Activities, 983 So.2d 550 (Fla. 2008). However, these amendments do not change the JEAC prior opinions holding that the type of conduct involved herein is not allowed.  The amendments were carefully tailored to allow a judge’s participation in a fund-raising event “only if the event concerns the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice”.  Canon 4D(2)(b).  As the Supreme Court has explained,

The commentary added to Canon 5C(3)(b) confirms that mere attendance at an event, fund-raising or not, does not constitute a violation of the Code.  It also clarifies that it is permissible for a judge to “pass a collection plate at a place of worship or serve as an usher or food server or preparer, or to perform similar subsidiary and unadvertised functions at fund-raising events sponsored by educational, religious, charitable, fraternal, or civic organizations,” as long as it does not involve direct or personal solicitation.  This commentary is intended to rule out judges’ participation in activities like serving as a “celebrity waiter,” while allowing them to participate as a food server or cashier for a school hot dog roast or similar activity.  In re: Amendments, supra, at 552. (footnotes omitted).

Because this ballet production does not concern “the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice,” the committee is of the opinion that the inquiring judge should not participate as “dignitary guest” and allow the judge’s name and title to be used in connection with this event.

REFERENCES

In re: Amendments To The Code Of Judicial Conduct-Limitations On Judges’ Participation In Fundraising Activities, 983 So.2d 550 (Fla. 2008).
Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canons 4D(2)(b) and 5C(3)(b).   
JEAC Ops. 88-05, 88-31, 98-32, 99-09, 00-17, 01-09, 05-07 and 05-09.

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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.


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)