FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2014-12 (Election)1
Date of Issue: June 19, 2012

ISSUE ONE

May a judicial candidate educate the public about the judicial appointment process in Florida?

ANSWER: Yes, so long as the candidate complies with Canon 7.

ISSUE TWO

May a judicial candidate “mention” that the incumbent opponent was appointed?

ANSWER: Yes, so long as the candidate complies with Canon 7.

ISSUE THREE

May a judicial candidate “mention” when the appointment was made?

ANSWER: Yes, but the candidate should exercise caution not to interject partisan politics, and otherwise must comply with Canon 7.

ISSUE FOUR

May a judicial candidate “mention” by whom the opponent’s appointment was made?

ANSWER: Yes, but the candidate should exercise caution not to interject partisan politics, and otherwise must comply with Canon 7.

 

FACTS

The inquiring judicial candidate states “[a]s I campaign, I am constantly . . . asked about the differences between the appointment and election process.” The judicial candidate would like to know if it is ethical to educate the public about Florida’s judicial appointment process.   In addition the candidate would like to know if it is ethical to “mention” the fact that the candidate’s opponent was appointed, when the appointment was made and who made the appointment.

  
DISCUSSION

Canon 7A speaks to the manner in which judicial elections must be conducted, and “Canons 7A(3)(a) [now (b)] and 7A(3)(d)(iii) [now (e)(ii)] state, respectively, ‘A candidate for a judicial office shall maintain the dignity appropriate to judicial office and act in a manner consistent with the integrity and independence of the judiciary . . .’ and ‘A candidate for a judicial office shall not . . . knowingly misrepresent the identity, qualifications, present position or other fact concerning the candidate or an opponent.’”  Fla. JEAC Op. 00-22.  We see nothing in the canons that would preclude your answering questions about the difference between the appointment process and elections.

You also ask whether you can tell the voters that your opponent was appointed.  If your opponent was, indeed, appointed, you are free to say so.  But you should be at pains to avoid interjecting partisan politics into the campaign.

Canon 7C(3) states:  The “candidate should refrain from commenting on the candidate’s affiliation with any political party.”  A candidate should also refrain from commenting on his or her opponent’s affiliation with any political party.

The Florida Supreme Court has publicly reprimanded a judge because, among other things, she “injected party politics into a non-partisan election, by noting the party affiliation of the governor who had appointed her opponent” as county judge.  In re Alley, 699 So. 2d 1369, 1369 (Fla. 1997).  Accordingly, we advise you not to specify the party affiliation of any governor who has appointed your opponent to any judicial or other office.  We also advise you to exercise caution in how and under what circumstances you “mention” the date of the appointment or by whom the appointment was made. The Committee can envision circumstances in which truthful statements made for inappropriate reasons or in an inappropriate context, particularly when combined with other circumstances, may be deemed to constitute the injection of party politics into a non-partisan election.

We hope this discussion of general principles will prove helpful.  In a long line of opinions, the JEAC has declined to vet specific political advertisements and we adhere to that approach here.  “In Opinion 94-35, this Committee stated its position that ‘it should not approve or disapprove specific language of individual judicial campaign advertisements, but rather should provide the ethical provisions which judicial candidates must consider.’ See also, Fla. JEAC Op. 98-27 (‘The Committee would be reluctant to add to its function the review of judicial candidates' campaign advertisements.’).”  Fla. JEAC Op. 00-23.

 

REFERENCES

Florida Case:  In re Alley, 699 So. 2d 1369, 1369 (Fla. 1997).
Florida Code of Judicial Conduct Canons: 7A, 7A(3)(b), 7A(3)(e)(ii) & 7C(3).
Judicial Ethics Advisory Opinions: 00-23, 00-22, 98-27 &94-35.

_____________


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, Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson, Judge 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, and Judge Richard R. Townsend. 


Copies furnished to:
Inquiring judge (Name of the Inquiring Judge deleted)
Justice Charles T. Canady
John A. Tomasino, Clerk of the Florida Supreme Court
All Committee Members
Executive Director of the J.Q.C.
Office of the State Courts Administrator

 

 

1. The Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee has appointed an Election Practices Subcommittee. The purpose of this Subcommittee is to give immediate responses to campaign questions in instances where the normal Committee procedure would not provide a response in time to be useful to the inquiring judge or candidate. Opinions designated  with the  “(Election)” notation are opinions of the Election Practices Subcommittee of the Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, and have the same authority as an opinion of the whole Committee.