FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2012-15 (Election)
Date of Issue: May 23, 2012

ISSUES

1. Must a campaign website state that it is maintained by the committee of responsible persons in support of a judicial candidate’s campaign, so it is clear that the website is not maintained by the candidate personally?

ANSWER: Yes, if the website seeks to solicit campaign funds or attorneys’ publicly stated support.

2. May a website maintained by the committee of responsible persons in support of a judicial candidate’s campaign include a link or other feature to facilitate contributions to the campaign?

ANSWER: The Code of Judicial Conduct does not govern the procedures used in soliciting campaign funds, other than the requirement that it be conducted by the committee of responsible persons.

3. May a website maintained by a committee of responsible persons in support of a judicial candidate’s campaign include an address to which contributions may be mailed to the campaign?

ANSWER: The Code of Judicial Conduct does not govern the procedures used in soliciting campaign funds, other than the requirement that it be conducted by the committee of responsible persons.

FACTS

The inquiring judicial candidate has submitted various questions concerning requirements for websites maintained by the committee of responsible persons in support of the candidate’s campaign.

    
DISCUSSION

Regarding Question 1, as indicated in JEAC Op. 10-21 (Election), if a website supporting the election of a judicial candidate is to solicit campaign funds or attorneys’ publicly stated support, that activity may not be conducted by the candidate personally, but instead must be conducted by a committee of responsible persons established “to secure and manage the expenditures of funds for the candidate’s campaign and to obtain public statements of support for his or her candidacy.” Canon 7C(1) Code of Judicial Conduct.

    

The opinion also notes:  “The internet site must be clear that it is being managed by the committee [of responsible persons] established under Canon 7C(1) and that the candidate is not the one making the solicitation.  Otherwise, it would be a violation of Canon 7.”

    

The Committee reiterates this position and takes this opportunity to note that this requirement of Canon 7 does not eliminate or in any way interfere with the requirements of Section 106.143, Florida Statutes, regarding political advertisements.   Indeed, the two requirements are entirely consistent.

Section 106.143(1)(a) provides that a political advertisement paid for by a candidate must state, in words specified by the statute, that the advertisement is paid for and approved by the candidate.

Canon 7C(3)(d) provides:  “A candidate for judicial office . . . except to the extent permitted by Section 7C(1) [the section authorizing the establishment of committees of responsible persons] shall not authorize or knowingly permit any other person to do for the candidate what the candidate is prohibited from doing under the Sections of this Canon . . . .”

Thus, while the candidate is permitted to establish the committee of responsible persons to do that which the candidate cannot do personally (solicit campaign funds and attorneys’ publicly stated support), the candidate must ensure that the committee does not engage in other acts, including those listed in Canon 7A(3)(e), in which the candidate is prohibited from engaging.  Applying that principle to the website maintained by the committee, the candidate remains responsible for what the committee states on the website and must ensure that the committee does not make statements on the website which the candidate is prohibited from making.

The obligation of the candidate to ensure that actions of the committee of responsible persons do not violate the Code of Judicial Conduct is consistent with the obligation of the candidate, as provided in Section 106.143, to approve the content of political advertisements and to state that approval on the face of the advertisement.

Regarding Questions 2 and 3, the Code of Judicial Conduct does not address  the procedures used in soliciting campaign funds, other than the requirement that it be conducted by the committee of responsible persons, as noted above.  The procedures used in soliciting campaign funds are otherwise governed by statutes.  The Committee is not authorized to opine upon these statutes.

REFERENCES

Section 106.143, Florida Statutes.

Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canons 7A(3)(e), 7C(1), 7C(3)(d).

Fla. JEAC Op. 2010-21.

_____________


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