FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2011-13
Date of Issue: August 31, 2011

ISSUE

Whether the Inquiring Judge may directly solicit local banks and businesses to assist in providing goods and/or services to a “financial literacy” program which educates families on money management issues?

ANSWER: No.

FACTS

The Inquiring Judge has been involved in a “financial literacy” program which educates families in dependency matters on better ways to budget their limited resources.  The Inquiring Judge would like to write a letter introducing the program and to invite local banks and businesses to consider assisting in this program.

DISCUSSION

Based on the facts presented to the Committee, this inquiry appears to be governed by Canon 5.  This opinion however discusses other potentially relevant provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct. 

Canon 2B provides that “a judge shall not lend the prestige of office to advance the private interests of the judge or others.”  Additionally, Canon 4D(2)(a) provides that a “judge may assist an organization in planning fund-raising and may participate in the management and investment of the organization’s funds, but shall not personally or directly participate in the solicitation of funds, except that a judge may solicit funds from other judges over whom the judge has no supervisory or appellate authority.”  The Commentary to Canon 4D(2) provides that a “judge must not engage in direct, individual solicitation of funds or memberships in person, in writing or by telephone except in certain cases,” none of which apply to this situation.  Additionally, the Commentary to Canon 4D(2) further states that “personal or direct solicitation of funds for an organization involves the danger that the person solicited will feel obligated to respond favorably to the solicitor if the solicitor is in a position of influence or control.”  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 does not engage in direct solicitation of funds.

The Inquiring Judge advises that a “financial literacy” program has been in the planning stages for the past year, and it is the intention of the members to provide “perks” or incentives to the participants by rewarding them with financial planning tools, such as a calculator or check book, to assist in managing the participant’s finances. The program helps families in dependency matters on learning how to budget within their limited resources. With the limited information provided about this program, it does not appear to be a law-related organization, other than the participants being involved in dependency matters that come before the judge.  The contemplated activity appears to fall under extrajudicial activities in Canon 5, and not under the ambit of Canon 4.   

Canon 5C(3)(b)(i) provides that a “judge may assist an organization in planning fund-raising and may participate in the management and investment of the organization’s funds, but shall not personally or directly participate in the solicitation of funds,” and Canon 5C(3)(b)(iii) provides that a judge “shall not use or permit the use of prestige of judicial office for fund-raising.” The Commentary to Canon 5C(3)(b) places the same restrictions on direct solicitation as Canon 4.  Direct solicitation by the judge to ask local banks and businesses to participate by providing goods and/or services is prohibited by the Canons.  Other opinions consistently maintain the prohibitions on direct solicitation of funds by judges.  See JEAC Op. 10-15 (judge permitted to participate in walk-a-thon fund-raiser, so long as judge does not solicit sponsorships), JEAC Op. 09-15 (judge prohibited from having video interview that encourages legal professionals to donate funds for a non-profit legal services corporation); JEAC Op. 07-18 (judge prohibited from soliciting businesses for donations of gift certificates and coupons as rewards for juvenile probationers good behavior); JEAC Op. 92-38 (judge not permitted to solicit coat and glove donations). 

The Committee advises that the Inquiring Judge carefully review Canons 4 and 5 concerning solicitation of funds, since neither Canon permits personal or direct solicitation of funds which is contemplated in this inquiry.

REFERENCES

Florida Code of Judicial Conduct Canon 2B, 4D(2)(a), 5D(3)(b)(i), 5D(3)(b)(iii), the Commentary to Canon 4D(2) and 5C(3).

Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinion (s): 92-38, 07-18, 09-15, 10-15.

_____________

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 Committee expresses no view on whether any proposed conduct of an inquiring judge is consistent with substantive law. The 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: Patricia E. Lowry, Esquire, Chair, Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, Squire, Sanders & Dempsey (US) LLP, 777 South Flagler Drive, Suite 1900 West, West Palm Beach, Florida 33401.

Participating Members:
Judge Roberto Arias, Judge Robert T. Benton, II, Dean Bunch, Esquire, Judge Lisa Davidson, Judge Kerry I Evander, Judge Jonathan Gerber, Judge T. Michael Jones, Patricia E. Lowry, Esquire, Judge Jose Rodriguez, Judge McFerrin Smith, III,  Judge Richard R. Townsend, and Judge Dorothy L. 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)