FLORIDA SUPREME COURT
Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee
Opinion Number: 2010-12
Date of Issue: May 13, 2010
May a judge publish a children's book?
May the publisher post a photograph of the judge on the author page for the book?
May the judge participate in a "book signing" at a place where the books are sold?
May a press release mention that the author is a judge?
The inquiring judge has written a children's book which is ready for publication. The publisher contemplates posting a photograph of the judge on its website and having a book signing at a place where the books can be purchased. The judge would not be involved in selling the books. The publisher is contemplating a press release indicating that the author is a judge.
The foregoing inquiry is governed by Canon 5B, Fla. Code Jud. Conduct. This Canon provides as follows:
B. Avocational Activities. A judge is encouraged to speak, write, lecture, teach, and participate in other extrajudicial activities concerning non-legal subjects, subject to the requirements of the Code.
An "avocational activity" is defined as a subordinate occupation or hobby (Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, 1960). Therefore, the Code encourages activities such as writing a book on non-legal subjects, if the writing is otherwise consistent with the requirements of the Code.
In Fla. JEAC Op. 89-06, this Committee advised that it was permissible for a judge to author a book, to give a book to a member of the bar, and to autograph a book purchased by an attorney. However, the Committee advised against the judge selling the book to a member of the bar. This would not be proper under the Code, because it may be perceived to exploit the judge's position or involve the judge in frequent transactions with lawyers likely to appear before the court, all in violation of Canon 5D(1).
Likewise, in Fla. JEAC Op. 98-01, this Committee advised that a judge may ethically write a crime novel so long as it does not cast reasonable doubt on the judge's capacity to act impartially as a judge; demean the judicial office; or interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties. Canon 5A. This caveat applies to the current inquiry.
An example of when a judge cannot engage in a specific avocational activity is found in Fla. JEAC Op. 07-04. In that inquiry a judge was advised that it would be improper to sell at a Sheriff's fundraiser custom-made knives which were readily identifiable as made by the judge. The Committee further advised that the judge should not donate these items to other community organizations for charitable fundraising purposes. However, the Committee had no problem with the judge selling these knives at trade shows, by special order, or on the internet. The selling of the knives at auction was disapproved, not because the product was being sold to the public, but because the prestige of judicial office was being used to promote a fundraiser. No aspect of the current inquiry involves fundraising.
Finally, this Committee believes that posting a photograph of the judge on the author page of the book, having a book signing, and mentioning that the author is a judge are permissible under the Code. Such activities are reasonable and commonplace for publishers and are incidental to the avocational activity of the author. These activities do not appear to lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of others; do not cast reasonable doubt on the judge's capacity to act impartially; do not undermine the judge's independence, integrity or impartiality; nor do they demean the judicial office.
Therefore, this Committee advises that the contemplated activity is encouraged by the Code so long as the judge remains within the parameters of all other requirements of the Code.
Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canons 5A, 5B, 5D(1)
Fla. JEAC Ops. 89-06, 98-01, 07-04
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 T. Michael Jones, Chair, Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, 190 Governmental Center, M.C. Blanchard Judicial Building, Pensacola, Florida 32502.
Judge Roberto Arias, Judge Robert T. Benton, Dean Bunch, Esquire, Judge Lisa Davidson, Judge Kerry I. Evander, Judge Jonathan D. Gerber, Judge T. Michael Jones, Patricia E. Lowry, Esquire, Judge José 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)