FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2014-14 (Election)1
Date of Issue: June 20, 2012

ISSUES

1. May a judicial candidate provide a biography to a partisan political organization in response to the organizationís request to print the biography in the organizationís newsletter?

ANSWER: Yes, but only if the organization:  (1) is not requesting the biography for the purpose of endorsing a judicial candidate; (2) has invited the judicial candidate’s opponent(s) to provide a biography to print in the organization’s newsletter; and (3) includes a notice of such invitation in the newsletter if the judicial candidate’s opponent does not provide a biography.

2. If the organization represents that it also has requested a biography from the judicial candidate’s opponent(s), must the judicial candidate confirm that request with the judicial candidate’s opponent(s) before providing a biography?

ANSWER: Yes.

FACTS

A partisan political organization has requested the Inquiring Judge, who is running for re-election, to provide a biography to print in the organization’s newsletter.  The organization has notified the Inquiring Judge that it is requesting such biographies from the various candidates running for judge.  The organization further has notified the Inquiring Judge that it will send a copy of the newsletter to the Inquiring Judge to confirm what information will have been sent to the organization’s membership.

The Inquiring Judge recognizes that Code of Judicial Conduct Canon 7C(3) permits a judicial candidate to attend a political party function to speak on behalf of his or her candidacy as long as the function is not a fund raiser and the invitation to speak also includes the other judicial candidates.  Given Canon 7C(3)’s conditions, the Inquiring Judge requests this Committee’s opinion as to whether similar conditions would apply to the partisan political organization’s request for the Inquiring Judge to provide a biography to print in the organization’s newsletter.

††
DISCUSSION

Neither Canon 7C(3) nor the remainder of Canon 7 address the specific conduct at issue here.

However, as the Inquiring Judge recognizes, the underlying theme of Canon 7 is for judicial candidates to avoid conduct which suggests or appears to suggest support for a political party.  See, e.g., Fla. Code Jud. Conduct Canon 7C(3) (“A judicial candidate attending a political party function must avoid conduct that suggests or appears to suggest support of or opposition to a political party, a political issue, or another candidate.”); In re Angel, 867 So. 2d 379, 382 (Fla. 2004) (conduct of judge and judge’s spouse, in attending meetings and events of various partisan political organizations, including events to which opponent was not invited, “violated both the spirit and the letter of . . . Canon 7 of the Code of Judicial Conduct”).

Consistent with Canon 7 and the Florida Supreme Court’s interpretation of Canon 7 in Angel, this Committee also consistently has advised candidates to refrain from inappropriate political activity or the appearance thereof.  See JEAC Op. 04-31 (a judicial candidate cannot leave campaign literature on display tables in both Republican and Democratic committee headquarters, even though no plans exist to campaign within these offices, because a voter could conclude, among other things, that the judicial candidate has a special relationship with that political party, which impression would not be easily or effectively dispelled with disclaimers or because other judicial candidates also could leave campaign literature); JEAC Op. 04-09 (“[A] judicial candidate may not attend an interview or submit written materials for the purpose of obtaining an endorsement from a major political party.”); JEAC Op. 02-13 (“[U]tilization of facilities owned or leased by a political party for the political activities of a candidate and the utilization of publicly available information provided by a political party injects party politics into a nonpartisan election.”).

Applying Canon 7, the Florida Supreme Court’s interpretation of Canon 7 in Angel, and our previous opinions to the instant case, we recognize that a judicial candidate could create an appearance of support for a political party under certain circumstances if the judicial candidate was to provide a biography in response to a partisan political organization’s request to print the biography in the organization’s newsletter.  For example, if the organization was to print the biography standing alone, without any notice that it also had requested a biography from the judicial candidate’s opponents, then it could appear to the newsletter’s readers that the judicial candidate supports the organization’s political party.

To avoid such an appearance, the Committee advises that the same conditions which apply to a judicial candidate’s attendance at a political party function also should apply in response to a partisan political organization’s request to print the judicial candidate’s biography in the organization’s newsletter, with the added condition that the submission of the biography not be for the purpose of obtaining the organization’s endorsement.

Thus, we opine that a judicial candidate may provide a biography to a partisan political organization in response to the organization’s request to print the biography in the organization’s newsletter as long as the organization:  (1) is not requesting the biography for the purpose of endorsing a judicial candidate; (2) has invited the judicial candidate’s opponent(s) to provide a biography to print in the organization’s newsletter; and (3) includes a notice of such invitation in the newsletter if the judicial candidate’s opponent does not provide a biography.

As the Inquiring Judge’s second inquiry suggests, the fact that a partisan political organization represents to a judicial candidate that it also has requested a biography from the judicial candidate’s opponent(s) is no guarantee that the organization has done so.  Such a representation is no different than a partisan political organization’s representation that it has invited the other judicial candidates to speak at a political party function – no guarantee exists.

Thus, the Committee advises that if the organization represents that it also has requested a biography from the judicial candidate’s opponent(s), the judicial candidate must confirm that request with the judicial candidate’s opponent(s) before providing a biography.  SeeFla. Code Jud. Conduct Canon 7A(3)(d) (“A candidate for judicial office . . . shall not authorize or knowingly permit any other person to do for the candidate what the candidate is prohibited from doing under the Sections of this Canon . . . .”); Angel, 867 So. 2d at 382 (Canon 7 violation existed where judge’s wife “assumed [the judge’s] opponent was invited, but . . . was not invited and was not present”).

 

REFERENCES

Fla. Code Jud. Conduct Canon 7C(3).

In re Angel, 867 So. 2d 379 (Fla. 2004).

Fla. JEAC Ops. 04-31, 04-09, 02-13.  

_____________


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, 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.