FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2013-17
Date of Issue: October 9, 2013

ISSUES

May a judge participate in a local cook-off competition being held at a Jamaican Jerk Festival which does not serve a fundraising purpose and the winners of which will receive a cash award and trophy? 

ANSWER: Yes.

FACTS

The inquiring judge states is considering competing in a cook-off held during the 12th Annual Grace Jamaican Jerk Festival as a means of community outreach and levity.  The cook-off affords chefs of all distinctions an opportunity to put their culinary skills to the test.  The goal of the cook-off is to promote the flavors of Jamaica through the Culinary Arts, and to demonstrate the extraordinary talents and creativity of the participating individual.  There is no indication from the inquiring judge that the cook-off serves a fund-raising purpose. 

    
DISCUSSION

Because the inquiry at issue concerns extrajudicial activities, the relevant provision of the Code of Judicial Conduct is Canon 5B, which states that “[a] judge may . . . participate in other extrajudicial activities concerning non-legal subjects, subject to the requirements of this Code.” Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 5B.  Canon 5C(3)(b)(iii), however, provides the caveat that a judge as an officer, director, trustee or non-legal advisor, or as a member or otherwise shall not use or permit the use of the prestige of judicial office for fund-raising. . .”  Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 5C(3)(b)(iii).  In addition, Canon 5D provides in pertinent part “[a] judge shall not engage in financial and business dealings that (a) may reasonably be perceived to exploit the judge’s judicial position, or (b) involve the judge in frequent transactions or continuing business relationships with those lawyers or other persons likely to come before the court on which the judge serves. Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 5D(1)(a)-(b).

Because the contemplated cook-off does not appear to be a fundraiser and because participation in the cook-off would not appear to exploit the judge’s judicial position or involve the inquiring judge in frequent transactions or continuing business relationships with persons likely to come before the court on which the judge serves, the inquiring judge would be permitted to participate in the cook-off competition. However, the judge is cautioned to investigate or verify that the event is not a fund-raiser. As has been previously opined by this committee, if the event is a fund-raiser and the judge’s participation will be advertised or be used in a manner that would lend the prestige of the office for the advancement of the private interests of others, the judge would not be allowed to participate. See JEAC Opinions 2012-36; 2011-14; and 2010-15. Canons 5C(3)(b)(iii) and 2B.

The committee would also like to take this opportunity to reiterate the well-reasoned commentary associated with Canon 5A which provides “[c]omplete separation of a judge from extra-judicial activities is neither possible nor wise; a judge should not become isolated from the community in which the judge lives.”

REFERENCES

Fla. Code Jud. Conduct Canons 2B, 5A, 5B, 5C, 5D and Commentary to Canon 5A.
Fla. JEAC Ops. 2012-36; 2011-14; and 2010-15.

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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 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