FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2012-06 (Election)1
Date of Issue: February 28, 2012

ISSUE

May a judicial candidate’s spouse, with the candidate’s knowledge, attend a political party function wearing the candidate’s campaign badge?

ANSWER: No. The candidate must encourage the spouse not to campaign at the event, which would include wearing a campaign badge or otherwise being identified as the candidate’s spouse.

 

FACTS

A judicial candidate’s spouse contemplates attending a political party function wearing the candidate’s campaign badge. The candidate acknowledges that if this constitutes campaigning, it would not be permissible.

    

 

DISCUSSION

This issue has been resolved by the Supreme Court in the reprimand issued in In Re Angel, 867 So. 2d 379 (Fla. 2004), and by this Committee’s opinion in Fla. JEAC Op. 10-16.

      In Angel, the judge’s wife, with his knowledge, attended and participated on his behalf at a “Meet the Candidates Night.” The judge’s wife assumed that the opponent was invited, but the opponent was not invited and was not present.  The Judicial Qualifications Commission and the Supreme Court found that this activity violated the spirit and the letter of Section 105.071, Florida Statutes, and Canon 7 of the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct. This activity, along with other transgressions, supported a public reprimand.

This Committee relied upon Angel in Fla. JEAC Op. 10-16 when we opined that although a judicial candidate’s spouse can attend a political party function, the spouse may not campaign in any way for the judicial candidate’s election. Wearing a candidate’s campaign badge at a political party function is clearly campaigning on the candidate’s behalf.

Both this Committee and the Supreme Court have recognized that a judicial candidate’s spouse has autonomy in the political arena and the spouse is free to engage in political activities which the spouse deems appropriate. However, a judicial candidate must adhere to Canon 7A(3)(b), which requires a candidate for judicial office to encourage members of the candidate’s family to adhere to the same standard of political conduct in support of the candidate which apply to the candidate.

For the reasons set forth above, the spouse may attend the political party function, but the candidate must encourage the spouse not to campaign at the event, which would include wearing a campaign badge or otherwise being identified as the candidate’s spouse.

    

 

REFERENCES

Florida Statutes, Section 105.071.

In re: Angel, 867 So. 2d 379 (Fla. 2004).

Fla. Code Jud. Conduct: Canon 7A(3)(b).

Fla. JEAC Op. 10-16.

 

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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 33401-6161.

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. Although the opinion was prepared by the Subcommittee on an expedited basis, it received full Committee review and approval before being issued. 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.