FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2014-07
Date of Issue: March 25, 2014

ISSUE

Whether a Judge, who is a member of a regional Association for Women Lawyers, may participate as a model as a part of an event described as a “cocktail party and fashion show,” where the event’s proceeds “primarily benefit…a free childcare facility located inside the…courthouse” but also help fund the association’s “assistance to deserving law students in need of financial support.”

ANSWER: Yes.

FACTS

The inquiring judge is a member of a regional Association for Women Lawyers (“the Association”) in the judge’s circuit. The Association is presenting its “annual spring cocktail party and fashion show.” In addition to a spring fashion runway show produced by a local department store, the event will offer to attendees “exclusive storewide discounts, door prizes, a silent auction, and special VIP offerings.” According to the Association’s event chair, “This stylish event supports the growth of [the area’s] professional women and women-owned businesses, while raising money for two important causes: [a free childcare facility located inside the courthouse] and [the Association’s] Bar Scholarship [which provides assistance to deserving law students in need of financial support].” The Association’s solicitation letter for event sponsors states in part, “As a sponsor, you will have the unique opportunity to showcase your business to the stars of [the local area’s] legal, business and executive communities.”

The event chair explains that the free childcare facility serves children who are brought to court by their caregivers when the caregivers have no safe place to leave them during the caregivers’ required attendance in court. She states it “spares these children from witnessing adult interactions that could be painful or frightening for them.” The childcare program in the courthouse therefore provides a supervised drop-in childcare facility for litigants, jurors and witnesses when childcare issues might otherwise create an obstacle for court participants to attend court proceedings. The facility “also provides their caregivers with referrals to resources like full-time child care or career counseling so they can return to work, financial assistance for crisis situations, counseling for children who have experienced trauma, and even beds for their homes.”

The inquiring judge asks whether a judge is permitted to participate in the Association’s fundraising event by modeling some of the fashions in the spring fashion show.

 

DISCUSSION

Canon 2B provides, “A judge shall not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or others….”  The Commentary to Canon 2B states in part:

Respect for the judicial office facilitates the orderly conduct of legitimate judicial functions. Judges should distinguish between proper and improper use of the prestige of office in all of their activities. A judge must avoid lending the prestige of judicial office for the advancement of the private interests of others.

In 2008, the Florida Supreme Court in In re Amendments to the Code of Judicial Conduct-Limitations on Judges’ Participation in Fundraising Activities, 983 So. 2d 550 (Fla. 2008) amended Canons 4 and 5 of the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct to allow for judicial participation in fundraising in the context of “quasi-judicial activities” and “extrajudicial activities” concerning the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice. Canon 4D(2) was amended to permit a judge to participate in a fundraising event if the event met two criteria: (1) the event is sponsored by an organization or governmental entity that is devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system, the judicial branch or the administration of justice, and (2) the event concerns the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice and the funds raised will be used for a law-related purpose. If these two criteria are met, then a judge may “speak at, receive an award or other recognition at, be featured on the program of and permit the judge’s title to be used in conjunction with [a fundraising] event….” Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 4D(2)(b).  But even if these criteria are met, Canon 4D(2)(a) prohibits judges from personally or directly participating in the solicitation of funds from anyone except from other judges over whom the judge does not exercise supervisory or appellate authority.

Canon 4 states, “A Judge Is Encouraged to Engage in Activities to Improve the Law, the Legal System, and the Administration of Justice.” Canon 4A provides, in pertinent part:

A.  A judge shall conduct all of the judge’s quasi-judicial activities so that they do not:
*        *        *
(2)  undermine the judge’s independence, integrity, or impartiality; [or]
(3)  demean the judicial office;

The Commentary to Canon 4B states, “This canon was clarified in order to encourage judges to engage in activities to improve the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice.”  Canon 4D(2)(b), dealing with a judge’s participation in an organization devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system, the judicial branch, or the administration of justice, now provides:

(2) A judge as an officer, director, trustee or non-legal advisor, or as a member or otherwise:
*        *        *
(b)  may appear or speak at, receive an award or other recognition at, be featured on the program of, and permit the judge’s title to be used in conjunction with an event of such an organization or entity, but if the event serves a fund-raising purpose, the judge may participate only if the event concerns the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice and the funds raised will be used for a law related purpose(s);

(Emphasis supplied.)

The majority opinion in In Re Amendments, supra, observed that the amendment to Canon 4 “is intended to allow judges to participate in a law-related organization’s fundraiser only where the particular event serves a law-related purpose and the funds raised will be used for a law-related purpose.” 983 So. 2d, at 552.  The opinion placed the responsibility on a judge who wants to participate in a fundraising event to determine if the event meets the criteria of Canon 4D(2). Id.  Justice Peggy Quince, in her dissent cautioned that a judge who wants to participate in a fundraising event permitted by Canon 4D(2) “will have to make a  judgment call on whether or not a particular organization or event falls within the ambit of the amendment.”  In re Amendments to the Code of Judicial Conduct-Limitations on Judges’ Participation in Fundraising Activities, 983 So. 2d 550, 553 (Fla. 2008) (Quince, J., dissenting).

The Committee is of the opinion that the Association is an organization devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system, the judicial branch, or the administration of justice. The courthouse childcare program improves the administration of justice by decreasing continuances due to childcare issues and by making the courts more accessible to parents who would not otherwise be able to attend required court proceedings because of a lack of childcare options.
The Committee further believes the free childcare program in the courthouse contributes to the administration of justice by helping childcare providers to honor their required court appearances and by providing a safe and convenient childcare service for their children during such appearances.

Thus, the Committee advises the inquiring judge, who is a member of a regional Association for Women Lawyers, that the judge may participate as a model as a part of an event described as a “cocktail party and fashion show,” where the event’s proceeds “primarily benefit…a free childcare facility located inside the…courthouse” but also help fund the association’s “assistance to deserving law students in need of financial support.” Cf., Fla. JEAC OP. 11-06 (Judge may not speak and be featured on a program and permit the Judge’s title to be used for a fundraiser for a program which provides supervised childcare to parents and guardians who are attending court-related matters, because, although the program is law-related, it is under the umbrella of the YWCA, an organization that is not solely devoted to the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice.)

 

REFERENCES

In re Amendments to the Code of Judicial Conduct-Limitations on Judges’ Participation in Fundraising Activities, 983 So. 2d 550 (Fla. 2008)

Fla. Code Jud. Conduct Canons 2B, 4A(2), 4A(3), 4B(2)(b), 4D(2)(a), and 4D(2)(b)

Commentary to Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, 2B and 4B

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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
John A Tomasino, Clerk of Supreme Court
All Committee Members
Executive Director of the J.Q.C.
Office of the State Courts Administrator