FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2012-03 (Election)1
Date of Issue: January 31, 2012

ISSUES

May a judge attend a victory party for a person who was elected, without opposition, to a position such as mayor of the city in which the judge resides?

ANSWER: No.

FACTS

The inquiring judge is a candidate for reelection and asks whether the specified contemplated conduct is permissible under Canon 7 of the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct.  The inquiring judge states that the elected official is a friend and it is possible that more than just people of one particular political party would attend and the victory party is not for one particular group.

DISCUSSION

As stated by Canon 7, a judge or candidate for judicial office shall refrain from inappropriate political activity.  Canon 7A(1)(b) expressly forbids a judge and judicial candidate’s  “public[] endorse[ment of]  . . . another candidate for public office.”2  See In re Glickstein, 620 So. 2d 1000, 1002 (Fla. 1993) (“Canon 7A is absolute in its prohibition of public endorsements of political candidates.”). Section 105.071(4), Florida Statutes (2011), provides that “[a] candidate for judicial office shall not endorse any candidate.” (emphasis added).  It should be further noted that Canon 2A states that “[a] judge shall . . . act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.” See also Canon 7A(3)(b).  The commentary to Canon 2A states that a judge must “avoid all impropriety and appearance of impropriety.”  As the Committee previously noted in Opinion 12-01(Election), response to question 3, an election-related activity that must be avoided at all cost is “involvement in the political races of others.”  Fla. JEAC Op. 06-21.

“The Code of Judicial Conduct contains no general prohibition against a judge or judicial candidate attending purely social functions, including [an elected official’s] function so long as no restriction in the code is involved.”  Fla. JEAC Op. 04-21.  In so stating, the Committee advised a judicial candidate, who was a personal friend of a congressman, against attending the congressman’s social gathering, which “appears to be a campaign function” because “such a function could cause a reasonable person to perceive attendance as an endorsement of the Congressman’s candidacy for reelection.”  Fla. JEAC Op. 04-21Cf. Fla. JEAC Op. 10-20 (judicial candidate may attend a town hall meeting which is open to the public and hosted by an elected state representative for the limited purpose of discussing the outcome of the legislative session and not to promote the representative’s political agenda).

The Committee has also advised an inquiring judge who was facing a contested reelection and was married to a judge, against the judge’s spouse accompanying the judge to “campaign-related events.”  Fla. JEAC Op. 06-13 (amended).  In JEAC Opinion 07-13, the Committee described this appearance as “being an implied endorsement.” In the latter opinion, the Committee advised against a judge’s attendance at a candidate spouse’s nonpartisan “meet and greet” gatherings as a “very clear and improper endorsement” of the candidacy.  Fla. JEAC Op. 07-13. In reaching its conclusion, the Committee determined that Canon 7A(1)(b) applies whether the endorsement is “by action or by words.” Fla. JEAC Op. 07-13. Cf. Fla. JEAC Op. 04-28 (judicial candidate may attend “meet and greet” function for judicial and non-judicial candidates given by a group of neighbors but “the judicial candidate should be careful to avoid saying or doing anything at the event that could be interpreted as an endorsement of other candidates who are present”).

Here, although it is possible that the attendees would belong to more than one political organization and the party is not for one particular group, it appears that the party is not a “purely social function,” but a part of the campaign of the judge’s friend as it is a victory party to celebrate a successful candidacy.3  As the cited Committee opinions indicate, the judge’s “action” in appearing at a “campaign-related event” such as a victory party could give the impression that the judge endorsed the friend’s candidacy for public office.  The fact that the candidacy was unopposed does not negate such conclusion as section 105.071(4) prohibits the endorsement of any candidate. Consistent with the reasoning of the above-cited opinions and the standards set forth in Canon 2A and Canon 7A(1)(b), the appearance of impropriety created when the judge attends a celebration for a candidate suggests that the judge should not attend the victory party.

 

REFERENCES

Florida Statutes, section 105.071.
In Re Glickstein, 620 So. 2d 100 (Fla. 1993).
Fla. JEAC Ops. 12-01, 10-20, 07-13, 06-21, 06-13, 04-28, 04-21, 00-26, 92-41, and 77-20.
Florida Code of Judicial Conduct: Canons 2A, 7, 7A(1)(b), 7A(3)(b), 7B(2), 7C(1), 7C(2), and 7C(3).

 

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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 Committee expresses no view on whether any proposed conduct of an inquiring judge is consistent with substantive law which governs any proceeding over which the inquiring judge may preside. 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, Dean Bunch, Esquire, Judge Lisa Davidson, Judge Jonathan D. Gerber, Judge T. Michael Jones, Judge Barbara Lagoa, Patricia E. Lowry, Esquire, Judge Jose′ Rodriguez, Judge C. McFerrin Smith, III, Judge Richard R. Townsend, and Judge Dorothy Vaccaro.


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.

2.The exceptions listed in Canons 7B(2), 7C(2) and 7C(3) are inapplicable to this inquiry.  See Fla. JEAC Op. 00-26.

3.In JEAC Opinion 92-41, the Committee agreed that it was permissible for a judge to attend the inauguration and inaugural ball of the President of the United States, provided that no funds were paid to a partisan political organization and attendees are not limited to one partisan political party.  This opinion is not pertinent to the instant inquiry as we have determined that the victory party is a campaign-related event.  The inauguration is a national celebration, rather than a part of the campaign.  See Fla. JEAC Op. 77-20 (no prohibition against a judge attending a testimonial dinner for an incumbent county commissioner; the testimonial is not to announce candidacy for public office or to make an announcement of the commissioner’s retirement, and the commissioner is not a candidate for public office).