FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2010-28
Date of Issue: July 23, 2010

ISSUES

(1) May a judge, who is a candidate for re-election, make a contribution to a public broadcasting station which will thereafter thank the judge by name on the air for the contribution?

ANSWER: Yes, provided the judge makes reasonable efforts to communicate the request that the judge's name and contribution not be used as a lure for contributions by other donors.

(2) May a judge or judicial candidate host a website or Facebook page promoting the campaign?

ANSWER: No.

FACTS

The inquiring judge states that he is running for re-election in a contested campaign.

DISCUSSION

Canon 5B(2) of the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct provides that a judge may not solicit funds for charitable organizations or permit the use of the prestige of the office for that purpose.   

In Fla. JEAC Op. 91-06, the Committee addressed the issue of whether a judge could participate in a fund raising scheme whereby the judge's name and donation would be advertised as a lure for matching funds from other donors.  The Committee concluded that the judge could contribute so long as the judge's name and contribution was not a part of the program to lure matching contributions from other donors.

The current inquiry states that the judge's name will be announced by the public broadcasting station, thanking the judge for the contribution.  The Committee believes that a judge may make a contribution to a station which will thereafter thank the judge on the air by name, provided the judge makes reasonable efforts to communicate to the television station the intent and desire that the station not use the judge's contribution as a lure for contributions by other donors.

The Committee recognizes that, unlike the judge's staff and court officials referenced in the commentary to Canon 5C(3)(b), the public broadcast station is not under the control of the judge and the judge cannot therefore ensure that a request concerning the use of the judge's name will be complied with.  However, the Committee suggests that the judge communicate the request contained in this opinion.

Two members of the Committee believe that the judge should not permit the station to use the title "judge" when announcing the name of the contributor on the air.  The members base this position on the proposition that there is no justification for allowing the judge's title to be mentioned other than to bring inappropriate attention on the judge and the contribution. 

With regard to the second question, Canon 7C(1), provides that a candidate or judge may not personally solicit campaign funds, but may establish committees of  responsible  persons to raise funds and to obtain public statements of support for the judge's campaign.   Websites and Facebook pages promoting the candidacy of a judge or judicial candidates should be established and maintained by these committees, and not by the judge or judicial candidate personally.  Fla. JEAC Op. 2008-11.

REFERENCES

Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 5(B)2; Canon 7C(1).
Fla. JEAC Ops. 91-06; 08-11.

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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 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)