FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2013-04
Date of Issue: January 25, 2013

ISSUES

May a judge collect a contingent fee for a matter on which the judge has worked, and for which the judge has secured an offer of settlement, before becoming a judge?

ANSWER: Yes.

FACTS

The inquiring judge represented clients on contingent fee cases, and secured offers of settlement for these cases, before becoming a judge.  The inquiring judge anticipates that some of the offers which the judge secured before becoming a judge will be accepted, or the cases otherwise will be settled by lawyers who have assumed the representation.

DISCUSSION

This Committee consistently has opined that a judge, after taking office, may continue to collect fees resulting from work performed before taking office.  See Fla. JEAC Op. 09-09 and opinions cited therein.

In Fla. JEAC Op. 09-09, the Committee opined that the fees to be collected in the future must be calculated based upon legal services which the incoming judge performed on behalf of the client before taking office, and must satisfy the Rules Regulating the Florida Bar’s applicable requirements.  If there are fees earned by the incoming judge, but which have not been collected, these fees may be paid to the incoming judge upon collection in the future.

    
REFERENCES

Fla. JEAC Op 09-09.

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