FLORIDA SUPREME COURT
Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee
Opinion Number: 2012-19 (Election)
Date of Issue: June 26, 2012
If a judicial candidate knows that: (1) a supporter is displaying the judicial candidate’s campaign sign on the supporter’s vehicle, (2) the supporter also is displaying a partisan candidate’s campaign sign on the supporter’s vehicle, and (3) the judicial candidate could have the supporter remove the judicial candidate’s campaign sign from the supporter’s vehicle, must the judicial candidate do so?
ANSWER: Yes, if the supporter is an employee or official who serves at the pleasure of the candidate. But if the supporter is an employee or official subject to the candidate’s direction and control, the candidate is merely required to discourage the supporter from such conduct. If the supporter is neither of these, the candidate is not required to take action but the committee would urge the candidate to do so.
The judicial candidate knows that: (1) a supporter is displaying the judicial candidate’s campaign sign on the supporter’s vehicle, (2) the supporter also is displaying a partisan candidate’s campaign sign on the supporter’s vehicle, and (3) the judicial candidate could have the supporter remove the judicial candidate’s campaign sign from the supporter’s vehicle. Although the inquiry does not specify what relationship exists between the candidate and the supporter, the inquiry makes it clear that the inquiring candidate could have the supporter remove the judicial candidate’s campaign sign from the supporter’s vehicle.
In JEAC Opinion 10-14, this committee opined that a judicial candidate may not place an advertisement on the side of a moving advertising truck which also would display the advertisements of other candidates for elected office. By sharing advertising space with other candidates, the judicial candidate impermissibly would create the appearance that the judicial candidate was running as part of a slate, which Canon 7A(1)(b) prohibits. Further, there would be a risk that the judicial candidate would appear to be running for office as a member of a political party if the other advertisements on the truck were for candidates all running as members of the same political party.
Canon 7, however, regulates the conduct of only judges and candidates. Except as provided in Canon 7A(3)(c), no candidate can control anyone’s (supporter’s or non-supporter’s) First Amendment right to support whomever they want to support, including their right to put several campaign signs on the same vehicle.
Nevertheless, Canon 7A(3)(c) requires judicial candidates to prohibit employees and officials who serve at the pleasure of the candidate from doing on the candidate’s behalf what the candidate is prohibited from doing. Further, the judicial candidate is required to discourage other employees and officials subject to the candidate’s direction and control from the same conduct.
The present inquiry discloses that the judicial candidate can cause the supporter to remove the judicial candidate’s campaign sign from the supporter’s vehicle displaying the other candidate’s campaign sign. Failing to do so would violate Canon 7A(3)(c) because it could leave the impression that the judicial candidate is running as a slate.
Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canons 7A(1)(b); 7A(3)(c).
Fla. JEAC Op. 2010-14.
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.
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