FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2010-24
Date of Issue: July 2, 2010

ISSUE

Whether a judge can lend the Judge’s name as an “Honorary Chairman” for a Bench-Bar tennis tournament which the local voluntary bar association is organizing to promote collegiality between judges and lawyers, where:  (1) the event does not serve a fundraising purpose; (2) the bar association is defraying the event’s costs through donations which the bar association is soliciting from lawyer and non-lawyer sponsors; and (3) the judge would not be involved in soliciting any donations, collecting any monies, or making any payments.

ANSWER: Yes.

FACTS

The inquiring judge has been asked to lend the judge’s name as an “Honorary Chairman” for a Bench-Bar tennis tournament which the local voluntary bar association is organizing to promote collegiality between judges and lawyers.  The event is not raising any funds for the bar association or any civil or charitable activity.  The bar association is defraying the event’s costs through donations which the bar association is soliciting from lawyer and non-lawyer sponsors.  The non-lawyer sponsors are expected to be vendors which cater to lawyers.  Such vendors may include, but are not limited to, court reporters, copy services, mediation companies, trial consultants, and banks which service lawyer trust accounts. The bar association will solicit all donations, collect all monies, and make all payments.  The event will occur at a city-owned tennis center.  The costs are the court rental, equipment, tennis pros, food, drink, signs, and prizes.  There are expected to be several dozen players, including eight to ten judges.

DISCUSSION

Some could view the inquiring judge’s participation as “Honorary Chairman” of the Bench-Bar tennis tournament as potentially violating Canon 2B of the Code of Judicial Conduct.  Canon 2B states, in pertinent part:

A judge shall not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or others; nor shall a judge convey or permit others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence the judge.

The first clause of Canon 2B would not be in question because the judge would not be lending the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or others.  That is, the tennis tournament is not a fundraiser for, and does not otherwise benefit, the judge, the bar association, or any civil or charitable activity.  However, the second clause of Canon 2B is a closer question given that lawyer sponsors will be making donations to defray the event’s costs.  On one hand, such donations simply could convey the impression that a lawyer supports the event and its law-related purpose of promoting collegiality.  On the other hand, such donations could convey the impression that a lawyer making a donation will be in a special position to influence the judge serving as “Honorary Chairman.”

We conclude on these facts that the more reasonable interpretation of Canon 2B is that such donations would not convey an improper impression.  We reach that conclusion by reading Canon 2B in conjunction with Canon 4D(2)(b).  Canon 4D(2)(b) states, in pertinent part:

A judge . . . may appear or speak at, receive an award or other recognition at, be featured on the program of, and permit the judge’s title to be used in conjunction with an event of [an organization devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system, the judicial branch, or the administration of justice], but if the event serves a fund-raising purpose, the judge may participate only if the event concerns the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice and the funds raised will be used for a law related purpose.

Canon 4D’s commentary adds, in pertinent part:

A judge may be a speaker or guest of honor at an organization’s fund-raising event if the event concerns the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice, and the judge does not engage in the direct solicitation of funds.  However, judges may not participate in or allow their titles to be used in connection with fund-raising activities on behalf of an organization engaging in advocacy if such participation would cast doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially as a judge.

The inquiring judge’s participation as “Honorary Chairman” of the Bench-Bar tennis tournament would comply with Canon 4D(2)(b).  A local bar association is an “organization devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system, the judicial branch, [and] the administration of justice.” The event serves those law-related purposes by promoting collegiality between judges and lawyers.  The event does not serve a fund-raising purpose for the bar association or any civic or charitable activity.  The judge’s participation would be limited to appearing at, receiving recognition at, having the judge’s title used in conjunction with, and being the guest of honor at, the event.  The judge is not going to solicit any donations, collect any monies, or make any payments.

Even if we perceived the donations as converting the event into serving a fund-raising purpose, we still would conclude that the inquiring judge’s participation as “Honorary Chairman” of the event complies with Canon 4D(2)(b) and its commentary.  The event would concern the legal system and the administration of justice by promoting collegiality between judges and lawyers. The funds raised would be used for a law-related purpose by defraying the costs of the event, which itself serves a law-related purpose.  The judge would not be engaging in the direct solicitation of funds.  The bar association, as an organization, does not engage in advocacy on behalf of parties who may appear before the judge, and so the judge’s participation would not cast doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially as a judge.

If we were to opine otherwise on the instant issue, then it would call into question a number of voluntary bar association events at which individual judges speak, receive awards or other recognition, are featured, or are the guests of honor.  Such events regularly rely on lawyer and nonlawyer sponsors to defray the events’ costs.

Our opinion today is consistent with our prior opinions on similar issues.  We have opined that judges may participate in events where the event’s purpose is to improve the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice, even where the event is a fundraiser.  See Fla. JEAC Op. 08-17 (judge may be speaker at fundraiser for drug court as long as judge makes reasonable and continuous efforts to ensure that judge’s participation in event falls clearly within parameters of Canon 4D(2)(b)); Fla. JEAC Op. 05-02 (judge may be guest speaker at dinner honoring law enforcement and other public safety officers when event is not fundraiser); Fla. JEAC Op. 00-14 (judge may speak at luncheon of plaintiff’s or defense lawyer’s group on law-related or trial-law-related subject for edification of members of plaintiff’s bar or defense bar); Fla. JEAC Op. 99-18 (family division judges may present annual professionalism awards to selected attorneys whom judges believe deserving of professionalism award); Fla. JEAC Op. 98-10 (judge may receive award from organization at ceremony assuming event is not fundraiser); Fla. JEAC Op. 92-31 (judge presiding in criminal division can accept award from criminal defense lawyer organization for recognition of and sensitivity to rights of the individual); Fla. JEAC Op. 92-29 (judge may sponsor and organize seminars for attorneys with monies raised going to circuit and/or to defray judicial expenses).

In contrast, we have opined repeatedly that judges may not participate in fundraisers where the event’s purpose is not law-related.  See Fla. JEAC Op. 09-07 (judge may not receive award at fundraiser for organization that is mainly involved in education programs because event would not concern the law, the legal system or the administration of justice, and the funds raised would not be used for law related purpose); Fla. JEAC Op. 08-22 (judge may not appear as “dignitary guest” in fund-raising ballet, sponsored by ballet company organized as charitable organization, and allow company to use judge’s name and title to advertise event); Fla. JEAC Op. 03-16 (judge may not participate in voluntary bar association’s fundraising event by providing goods for sale or auction, performing skit, displaying talent, being a model, or otherwise performing at event); Fla. JEAC Op. 03-05 (judge may not permit voluntary bar association to solicit funds for scholarship named for judge because it would advance private interests of others by fund-raising activities); Fla. JEAC Op. 01-09 (judge may not participate as featured speaker at fundraising roast of prominent local figure); Fla. JEAC Op. 00-31 (judge may not act as chairperson of kickoff event for fundraising organization); Fla. JEAC Op. 99-15 (judge may not be guest speaker at college alumni banquet, when banquet is main fund-raiser for alumni club); Fla. JEAC Op. 99-09 (judge may not receive award at luncheon where program advertisements have been sold to raise funds for organization); Fla. JEAC Op. 98-32 (judge may not participate in charity fashion show by announcing winning tickets and describing items won); Fla. JEAC Op. 90-20 (judge may not participate as guest of honor at charitably-funded institution’s dinner where patrons may purchase journal advertisements dedicated to the judge, and distribution of journal is one of institution’s main fundraising activities); Fla. JEAC Op. 90-12 (judge may not serve as chairman of golf tournament, even though judge would neither participate in solicitation of funds nor be identified as judge in materials associated with tournament, where entity sponsoring tournament is nonprofit organization which raises funds to support sports activities).

As with Fla. JEAC Op. 08-17, we remind the inquiring judge to make reasonable and continuous efforts to ensure that participating in the event falls clearly within the parameters of Canon 4D(2)(b).

REFERENCES

Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canons 2B, 4D(2)(b)
Fla. JEAC Ops. 09-07, 08-22, 08-17, 05-02, 03-16, 03-05, 01-09, 00-31, 00-14, 99-18, 99-15, 99-09, 98-32, 98-10, 92-31, 92-29, 90-20, 90-12

_____________

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 Kerry I. Evander, Chair, Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, Fifth District Court of Appeal, 300 South Beach Street, Daytona Beach, Florida  32114-5002.

Participating Members:
Judge Roberto Arias, Judge Robert T. Benton, Judge Lisa Davidson, Judge Jonathan D. Gerber, Judge T. Michael Jones, 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)