FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2012-30
Date of Issue: October 1, 2012

ISSUES

May a judge sitting in the juvenile division of the circuit court accept an award at a charity luncheon where a silent auction will take place simultaneously during the luncheon?

ANSWER: No.

FACTS

The inquiring judge sits in the juvenile division of the circuit court.  The judge states that the organization sponsoring the luncheon provides education, prevention, and self-preservation services to abandoned, abused, neglected and delinquent children and their families.  The organization wishes to present the judge and the judge’s spouse with an award at the luncheon.  At the luncheon, there also will be a silent auction.

DISCUSSION

From the facts provided, it appears that the activities engaged in by the charitable organization at issue constitute extrajudicial activities and are not aimed at improving the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice.  As such, the provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct which are relevant to this inquiry are found in Canon 5.  Canon 5 provides that “[a] judge is encouraged to . . . participate in other extrajudicial activities concerning non-legal subjects subject to the requirements of this Code.”  Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 5B.  However, Canon 5 also provides the caveat that a judge shall not personally or directly participate in the solicitation of funds, in the solicitation of membership if the solicitation might reasonably be perceived as coercive, or permit the use of the prestige of the judicial office for fund raising or membership solicitation.  Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 5C(3)(b)(i)-(iii).

Because the inquiring judge states that the luncheon includes a silent auction, it appears that the luncheon is in fact a fundraiser.  See Fla. JEAC Op. 08-17 (indicating that event is a fundraiser where “[t]here will be a silent auction, a dinner, and a live auction”); see also Fla. JEAC Op. 10-33 (stating that prior opinions suggest that event “is a fundraiser and the judge may not participate as part of the draw (featured speaker, guest of honor, etc.)” if the event includes certain events including “auction of contributed items”); cf. Fla. JEAC Op. 05-02 (noting that Knights of Columbus dinner does not appear to be fundraiser where there is no indication the organization intends to sell advertisements in a journal, hold a silent auction, or conduct a raffle” and referring to journals, auctions and raffles as “indicia of fund-raising”). 

The Committee has previously stated that “a judge may not be a speaker, guest of honor, or otherwise be featured at [a non-law-related] organization’s fundraising event.”  Fla. JEAC Op. 11-06 (impermissible for judge to speak at and be featured on a program and to permit judge’s title to be used for a fundraiser for a non-law-related organization’s (YWCA) program, which provides childcare to parents and guardians who are attending court-related matters), and opinions cited therein; see also opinions cited in Fla. JEAC Op. 11-12; cf. Fla. JEAC Ops. 12-24 (permissible for judge to be keynote speaker at Girl Scouts’ events that do not appear to be fundraisers and cautioning inquiring “judge that her name or likeness may not be used by the Girl Scouts to solicit funds or membership”), and opinions cited therein; Fla. JEAC Op. 08-17 (permissible for judge to be a guest speaker at fundraiser for drug court, a law-related organization, where the funds would be used for a law-related purpose). 

Because a silent auction will take place during the luncheon, the presentation of an award to the inquiring judge at the luncheon would not be permitted under the Code.  See Fla. JEAC Op. 11-12 (impermissible for judge to attend a veterans’ organization fundraiser during which judge will be honored); Fla. JEAC Op. 11-03 (impermissible for judge to receive award at Junior League fundraising event); Fla. JEAC Op. 10-33 (impermissible for judge to attend annual fundraiser of non-law-related civic organization for the purpose of receiving an award), and opinions cited therein; Fla. JEAC Op. 99-09 (impermissible for judge to attend as a guest of honor to accept award at County Woman’s Hall of Fame luncheon where program advertisements had been sold to raise funds for the organization).  If the luncheon were not a fundraiser, we note that the inquiring judge would be permitted to receive the award.  See Fla. JEAC Ops. 98-10 (permissible for judge to receive the 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 prior to taking the bench).

    
REFERENCES

Fla. Code Jud. Conduct Canons 5B, 5C(3)(b)(i)-(iii).

Fla. JEAC Ops. 12-24, 11-12, 11-06, 11-03, 10-33, 08-17, 05-02, 99-09, 98-10, 79-17.

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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 the Committee Chair: Judge Jonathan D. Gerber, Fourth District Court of Appeal, 1525 Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard, West Palm Beach, Florida 33401.

Participating Members:
Judge Roberto Arias, Robert T. Benton, II, Dean Bunch, Esquire, Judge Lisa Davidson, Judge Jack Espinosa, Jr., Judge Jonathan D. Gerber, Judge T. Michael Jones, Judge Barbara Lagoa,  Patricia E. Lowry, Esquire, Judge Michelle Morley, Judge Richard R. Townsend, Judge Dorothy L. 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