FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2012-31
Date of Issue: October 5, 2012

ISSUES

1.  May a chief judge permit a general magistrate to attend a training session sponsored by the Salvation Army and the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence (“FCADV”)?

ANSWER: Yes.

2.   May a chief judge permit members of the court’s administrative staff to attend this training session?

ANSWER: Yes.

3.   Does the recent passage of Chapter 2012-147, Laws of Florida, providing that the Department of Children and Family Services shall operate the domestic violence program in collaboration with the FCADV have any bearing on whether the FCADV is considered an advocacy organization?

ANSWER: Because the first two questions relate only to the attendance at a seminar, and not membership in an organization, it is unnecessary to answer this question..

FACTS

The inquiring chief judge has supervisory responsibilities over general magistrates and administrative staff.

The inquiring chief judge has been asked by a general magistrate and administrative staff whether the judge will permit them to attend a training session sponsored by the Salvation Army and FCADV.  The training session is designed for “law enforcement officers/advocates and court personnel.”  It is not clear what the exact content of the training will be, but among the subjects to be covered will be the recent legislation (Chapter 2012-147, Laws of Florida) and the enhanced role of FCADV in connection with the Department of Children and Families.

DISCUSSION

Canon 3C(2) provides that “[a] judge shall require staff, court officials, and other subject to the judge’s discretion and control to observe the standards of fidelity and diligence that apply to the judge and refrain from manifesting bias or prejudice in the performance of their official duties.”

Canon 4A provides that a judge’s quasi-judicial activities cannot: “(1) cast reasonable doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially as a judge; (2) undermine the judge’s integrity, independence or impartiality; (3) demean the judicial office; or (4) interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties.”

Canon 4A should be read in conjunction with Canon 4B which encourages a judge to participate in activities concerning the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice, subject to the requirements of the Code.

In Fla. JEAC Op. 98-5, this Committee opined that a judge was permitted to attend educational programs designed for and attended by criminal defense attorneys.  The Committee concluded that: “a judge’s mere presence at an educational program designed for and attended by criminal defense attorneys should be permitted, since it may improve the administration of justice by providing the judge with current important topics in the area of criminal law.”

Of course, the inquiring judge cannot know exactly what the material to be presented at the training session will be.  However, even if the training is presented from a certain viewpoint (as might have been expected with respect to the seminar presented by the criminal defense bar in Fla. JEAC Op. 98-5), the inquiring chief judge’s approval of the attendance by a general magistrate or other court personnel at such training would not violate the Code of Judicial Conduct, because the subject matter of the seminar relates to the legal system and the administration of justice.

A judge’s approval of attendance of court personnel at a single seminar, whether or not the seminar is presented by an organization which may have a particular viewpoint on the subject matter to be presented, does not interfere with the judge’s impartiality or suggest that the judge agrees with the content of the seminar or the viewpoint of the organization sponsoring the seminar.

The inquiry posed does not involve a proposed approval by the inquiring judge of a magistrate or other court personnel’s membership in the organization sponsoring the seminar.  Accordingly, it is unnecessary to discuss the impact of the recent legislation on whether or not the organization is an “advocacy organization” which would impact the propriety of a judge joining such an organization.

REFERENCES

Fla. Code Jud. Conduct Canons 3C(2), 4A, and 4B.

Fla. JEAC Op. 98-5.

Chapter 2012-147, Laws of Florida.

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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, Chair, Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, 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