FLORIDA SUPREME COURT
Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee
Opinion Number: 2012-24
Date of Issue: July 23, 2012
1. May a judge give a keynote speech at the local council of Girl Scouts’ annual business meeting where the meeting’s purposes are to report on the council’s status and recognize adult volunteers?
2. May a judge give a keynote speech at the Girl Scouts’ annual Gold and Silver Award Ceremony where the speech’s purposes are to congratulate girls who have earned the highest awards available and encourage them to be involved in the community?
The inquiring judge states that she is a lifelong member of the Girl Scouts, and has been very active in the local council of the Girl Scouts at both the program level and leadership level. She resigned from the Girl Scouts’ Board of Directors upon her appointment to the bench, but the local council would like to recognize her for her involvement in the Girl Scouts program. There is no charge for any of events at which the inquiring judge has been asked to speak.
Because the inquiries at issue concern extrajudicial activities, the relevant provision of the Code of Judicial Conduct is Canon 5, which states that “[a] judge is encouraged to speak . . . concerning non-legal subjects.” Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 5B. Canon 5A(6), however, provides the caveat that a judge shall conduct all of his or her extra-judicial activities so that they do not appear to a reasonable person to be coercive. Specifically, a judge shall not personally or directly participate in the solicitation of funds or membership, or permit the use of the prestige of the judicial office for fundraising or membership solicitation. Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 5C(3)(b)(i)-(ii).
This Committee previously has stated that judges may not participate in fundraisers, as a featured speaker or guest of honor, where the event’s purpose is not law-related. See Fla. JEAC Op. 10-33, and opinions cited therein. Because the inquiring judge states that there is no charge to attend either event, it appears that neither is a fundraiser, and therefore she would be permitted to be the keynote speaker. See Fla. JEAC Ops. 98-10 (permissible for judge to receive award at dinner honoring service to children and families where event not a fundraiser); 79-17 (judge may be honored by university for volunteer services rendered before taking the bench).
The inquiring judge does not state the purpose of her speech at the local council of Girl Scouts’ annual business meeting. Given this, the inquiring judge is cautioned that her name or likeness may not be used by the Girl Scouts to solicit funds or membership. See Fla. JEAC Op. 05-02 (judge may ethically be guest speaker at event honoring law enforcement because event did not appear to be a fundraiser; however, if judge’s name or office used to obtain sponsorship, character of event would then be that of a fundraiser); see also Fla. JEAC Ops. 00-15; 99-15.
The inquiring judge states that the purposes of her speech at the Gold and Silver Award Ceremony are to congratulate the girls who have earned the highest awards available and encourage them to be involved in the community. Such a purpose is permissible under Canon 5. See Fla. JEAC Op. 97-28 (judge may be featured in advertising campaign of alma mater, purpose of which was to encourage higher education).
The inquiring judge also asks if there is a prohibition against speaking at the Boy Scouts’ Eagle Award ceremony. Although the inquiring judge has not provided any information about the event, and whether there is a cost to attend, her speech would be permissible under Canon 5 as long as the facts relating to the Boy Scouts’ ceremony are consistent with this Opinion.
Fla. Code of Jud. Conduct Canons 5A(6), 5B, 5C(3)(b)(i)-(ii).
Fla. JEAC Ops. 10-33, 05-02, 00-15, 99-15, 98-10, 97-28, 79-17.
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 C. McFerrin Smith, III, Judge Richard R. Townsend, and Judge Dorothy Vaccaro.
Copies furnished to:
Inquiring judge (Name of the Inquiring Judge deleted)
Justice Charles T. Canady
Thomas D. Hall, Clerk of Supreme Court
All Committee Members
Executive Director of the J.Q.C.
Office of the State Courts Administrator