FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2010-21 (Election)1
Date of Issue: June 30, 2010

ISSUES

1.  Does Canon 7, Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, allow the placement of the word “contribute” underneath the words “volunteer, endorse, education, experience, family and photos” on the candidate’s committee’s home page on the internet?

ANSWER: Yes, if the site is clearly managed by the committee established under Canon 7C(1) and the site does not give the appearance that the candidate is managing the site or its content.

2.  May a judicial candidate have a volunteer campaign manager who is an officer of a partisan political party who will not campaign for the candidate while engaged in partisan activities?

ANSWER: No.

 

FACTS

The candidate has a campaign website. The home page allows the visitor to open other pages designated as “volunteer”, “endorse”, “education” and “experience.” The candidate wants to know if this page  also may include a choice to “contribute” that, when double clicked, would open a new page which would contain the photograph of the campaign treasurer along with information on how to contribute to the campaign.

In the second inquiry, the candidate asks if a judicial candidate may have, as a campaign manager, an officer of a partisan political party that is not hired and is merely a volunteer. According to the inquiry, the campaign manager would not campaign for the judicial candidate while engaged in partisan political activities. The candidate wants to know if the fact that this manager would be a volunteer, rather than receiving compensation for the services, would dictate a different result from that reached in Fla. JEAC Op. 08-16.

    

 

DISCUSSION

Florida’s Code of Judicial Conduct, Canon 7C(1) provides, in relevant part, that “[a] candidate...for judicial office...shall not personally solicit campaign funds, or solicit attorneys for publicly stated support, but may establish committees of responsible persons to secure and manage the expenditures of funds for the candidate’s campaign and to obtain public statements of support for his or her candidacy.”

The candidate is therefore prohibited from engaging in conduct which would constitute a solicitation of campaign funds.  The placing of the word “contribute” on a web site maintained by the candidate personally would be a solicitation of campaign funds.  The internet site must be clear that it is being managed by the committee established under Canon 7C(1) and that the candidate is not the one making the solicitation.  Otherwise, it would be a violation of Canon 7.

The candidate also asks if the candidate may have a campaign manager who is an officer of a partisan political party that, rather than being hired, would volunteer his/her services.  The candidate recognizes that the committee has previously held that a judicial candidate may not hire an executive officer of a partisan political committee as the judicial candidate’s campaign manager or consultant.  Fla. JEAC Op. 08-16.  The only difference between the established precedent, as reflected in the above-cited opinion, and this inquiry is that the executive officer of the partisan political party would be a volunteer rather than being hired by the candidate’s campaign.  There is no material difference in this inquiry which would lead to a different conclusion than that held in Fla. JEAC Op. 08-16.

As aptly stated by this committee in Fla. JEAC Op. 08-16, “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 [sic], a candidate for judicial office may not take action which would suggest that the candidate is endorsed by a partisan political party....”

This committee, in dealing with endorsements by elected partisan officials acting in their individual capacity, has always assumed that a majority of voters are registered in one party or another and that the party affiliation of prominent persons may be a matter of common knowledge, even those persons who have never sought political office.  Fla. JEAC Ops. 06-21 and 06-24.  Thus, it would not appear that a political party was supporting a candidate should “a person of this stature choose to support a judicial candidate.”  Here, however, the same cannot be assumed.  The political partisanship atmosphere that permeates the current landscape cannot be ignored.  This atmosphere intensifies and clearly creates the “public perception that the judicial candidate [is] seeking the support, or had sought the support, of that partisan political [party].”  Fla. JEAC Op. 08-16.  The proposed campaign manager is an officer of a partisan political party or organization.  As such, the obvious goal of this officer is to promote the views of the party and all those candidates who share the views of the party.  The reasonable implication, appearance or perception inescapably will be that the participation of this type of person in the judicial candidate’s campaign means that the judicial candidate not only espouses the party’s views, but that the candidate is also being endorsed by the party.

This committee has consistently advised judicial candidates to refrain from partisan and political activities, as well as those that may give the appearance of partisan political involvement.  See, Fla. JEAC Ops. 06-08, 04-09, 02-11, 02-08.  The committee has even advised candidates to refrain from distributing literature outside a political party event where the candidate has not been properly invited to speak under Canon 7.  Fla. JEAC Op. 03-13.  Lastly, the Florida Supreme Court’s decision  in In re Angel, 867 So.2d 379 (Fla. 2004), should serve as a warning that judicial candidates should strive to follow not only the letter of Florida Statutes, Section 105.071, but the spirit thereof as well.  Thus, all judicial candidates should aim to not do anything that could be perceived as involvement in any partisan political activity.

    

 

REFERENCES

Florida Statutes (2008), Section 105.071

In re Alley, 699 So.2d 1369 (Fla.1997); In re Angel, 867 So.2d 379 (Fla. 2004)

Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canons 7 and Canon 7C(1)

Fla. JEAC Ops. 08-16, 06-24, 06-21, 06-08, 04-09, 03-13, 02-08, 02-11

 

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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.

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.

Participating Members:
(Election Subcommittee):  Judge Roberto Arias, Dean Bunch, Esquire, Judge Kerry I. Evander


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 give 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 whole Committee.