FLORIDA SUPREME COURT
Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee
Opinion Number: 2009-09
Date of Issue: May 13, 2009
Whether a recently appointed judge may receive a fee for legal work performed prior to taking office.
Prior to taking office, the inquiring judge represented several clients on a contingency fee or partial contingency fee basis where a judgment was obtained but never satisfied. The judge inquires as to whether a fee may properly be received for legal work performed prior to appointment if payment is made on any of these currently unsatisfied judgments.
This Committee has consistently opined that a judge may collect a fee on legal work performed prior to assuming the bench, as long as the computation of the fee is based on traditional standards. See Fla. JEAC Ops. 06-01, 97-9, 94-7, 91-8, and 89-1. As long as the fee is properly calculated based upon legal services the judge performed on behalf of the client prior to assuming the bench, and the applicable requirements of The Florida Bar Rules of Professional Conduct are satisfied, no impropriety appears, and the judge may collect a fee. However, the judge may not provide legal assistance to a former client with regard to seeking satisfaction of a judgment. See Canon 5G of the Code of Judicial Conduct ("A judge shall not practice law."); see also JEAC Op. 05-19 (judge may not discuss former clients' cases with their new lawyers except as to matters which would not constitute the practice of law).
Florida Code of Judicial Conduct, Canon 5G;
JEAC Ops. 89-1, 91-8, 94-7, 97-9 and 05-19, and 06-01.
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 a 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. See 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. See Id.
The opinions of this Committee express no view on whether any proposed conduct of an inquiring judge is consistent with the substantive law which governs any proceeding over which the inquiring judge may preside. This Committee only has authority to interpret the Code of Judicial Conduct, and therefore its opinions deal only with the issue of whether the proposed conduct violates a provision of that Code.
For further information, contact: Judge C. McFerrin Smith, III, Chair, Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, 101 N. Alabama Avenue, Suite 437, Deland, FL 32724.
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 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)