FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2010-27
Date of Issue: July 23, 2010

ISSUE

(1)  Whether a Judge may present a seminar providing attorneys with information, suggestions and anecdotes about how to present a case to a judge?

ANSWER: Yes.

FACTS

The Inquiring Judge asks for an opinion as to whether it is appropriate for a judge to present a seminar for attorneys discussing the “do’s and don'ts of trying a case and arguing to a judge.”  According to the judge, the topics will be addressed from the point of view of both plaintiff and defense counsel in civil and criminal cases and will include the “do’s” and “don'ts” of framing jury instructions; delivering voir dire, opening statements, direct examinations, cross examinations and closing arguments; using discovery depositions in civil and family cases as substantive evidence; and using preserved testimony by video as substantive evidence.  The judge indicates no intention to accept a fee for presenting the seminar, which may be presented live or recorded and posted on the circuit’s website for viewing.  The judge adds that the seminar may be advertised by The Florida Bar.

DISCUSSION

Canon 4B of the Code of Judicial Conduct expressly encourages judges to speak, write, lecture and teach in areas concerning the law, the legal system and the administration of justice.  As stated in its commentary, since judges are specially learned in the law, they are in a unique position to contribute in these areas.  Thus, to the extent time permits, and so long as participation does not detract from judicial duties, a judge may undertake to participate in a legal seminar sponsored by the Academy of Florida Trial Lawyers (JEAC Op. 87-3); sponsor and organize seminars for attorneys with monies raised going to the circuit and/or to defray judicial expenses (JEAC Op. 92-29); or lecture at a legal seminar sponsored by a private corporation (JEAC Op. 92-45 and JEAC Op. 07-09). But see, JEAC Op. 03-03 (a judge may not participate in a law firm's litigation program as an “honored guest” by presiding over mock trials at a firm retreat to be held at a local resort where the purpose is to advance and improve the skills of trial lawyers within that firm.)

Based on the information provided, presentation of the seminar described by the Inquiring Judge is the type of activity promoted under Canon 4B.  As a matter of course, we remind the Inquiring Judge that in undertaking any quasi-judicial activity, to be mindful not to cast reasonable doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially; undermine the judge’s independence, integrity, or impartiality; demean the judicial office; permit any interference with the proper performance of judicial duties; or appear to a reasonable person to be coercive.  Canon 4A.

REFERENCES

Fla. Code Jud. Conduct Canon 4A; Canon 4B
Fla. JEAC Ops. 87-3; 92-29; 92-45 and 07-09; but see Fla. JEAC Op. 03-03

_____________

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, Dean Bunch, Esquire, Judge Lisa Davidson, Judge Jonathan D. Gerber, Patricia Lowry, Esquire, Judge T. Michael Jones, Judge Jose′ Rodriguez, Judge C. McFerrin Smith, III, Judge Richard R. Townsend, and 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)