FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2013-16
Date of Issue: October 9, 2013

ISSUE

May a judge serve on the board development committee of a scouting organization and on the board of directors of that organization?

ANSWER: Yes, so long as the judge does not personally and directly participate in fund raising or otherwise engage in conduct that could reasonably be deemed to be coercive.

FACTS

The inquiring judge states that a local scouting organization has requested the judge to serve on the development committee of the board of directors and on the board itself.  The development committee, among other things, recruits members for elected positions of the organization and recommends a slate of persons to be elected.  The board of directors, among other things, engages in fund raising activities for the organization.

DISCUSSION

Canon 5C(3)(b) of the Code of Judicial Conduct generally provides that a judge: (i) may assist charitable organizations in planning fund-raising events, “but shall not personally or directly participate in the solicitation of funds, except that a judge may solicit funds from other judges over whom the judge does not exercise supervisory or appellate authority; (ii) shall not personally or directly participate in membership solicitation if the solicitation might reasonably be perceived as coercive; and (iii) shall not use or permit the use of the prestige of judicial office for fund-raising or membership solicitation.” (emphasis supplied).

This Committee has opined that a judge may participate on a board or other governing body of a non-profit organization so long as the judge does not engage in fund raising activities.  JEAC Op. 80-02; 08-20.  Therefore, the fact that the board of the organization is responsible for fund raising does not prevent the judge from serving on that body.

With regard to the activities of the development committee in recruiting members for elected positions, the inquiring judge would not be soliciting members to join the organization, but instead would be soliciting persons who had already joined to become leaders.   Therefore, it is permissible for the judge to become a member of the development committee.

It is conceivable that recruitment of certain persons to be officers in the organization might reasonably be perceived as coercive.  However, that possibility does not prevent the judge from serving as a member of the committee.  The judge, in recruiting officers for the group, must avoid recruiting persons who would reasonably perceive that they were being coerced into accepting the judge's offer.   Among persons who would fall into this category would be lawyers, employees of the court system, and persons who routinely appear before the judge.

REFERENCES

Fla. Code of Judicial Conduct Canon 5C.

Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinions: 80-02, 08-20.

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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 to 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 Judge Roberto Arias, Chair, Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, Duval County Courthouse, 501 West Adams Street, Room 7180, Jacksonville, Florida 32202-4603.

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 Michael Raiden, 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