FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2014-25
Date of Issue: November 14, 2014

ISSUES

May a circuit judge, assigned to the juvenile division, accept appointment as the chair of a self-described advocacy organization relating to human trafficking issues?

ANSWER: No.

FACTS

The Inquiring Judge, as a circuit judge assigned to the juvenile division, presides over a juvenile delinquency court which deals directly with the child victims of human trafficking. The Court regularly offers and imposes rehabilitative services to these children.

The judge has been asked to accept appointment as chair of the board of directors of an organization which seeks to eradicate human trafficking through education, outreach, training, advocacy and awareness of human trafficking issues for juveniles and adults.

DISCUSSION

Canon 5A of the Code of Judicial Conduct provides that a judge should not engage in extra-judicial activities that cast reasonable doubt on the judge's capacity to act impartially as a judge.

As the Committee has opined numerous times, judges should not participate in advocacy organizations, such as the one described here, because the organization's advocacy with respect to issues that may come before the judge would cause a reasonable person to doubt whether the judge would act in an impartial manner. See Fla. JEAC Ops. 01-14; 94-32: 93-66: 91-22.

In this situation posed here, the judge is not only being asked to join an organization, but to lead it. The issue to which the organization is dedicated is an issue which routinely is before the judge's court.

Therefore, the judge should not agree to serve in the position which has been offered.

 

REFERENCES

Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 5A.

Fla. JEAC Ops. 91-22, 93-66, 94-32, 01-14.

_____________


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.    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 Petition of the Committee on Standards of Conduct Governing Judges, 698 So. 2d 834 (Fla. 1997).

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 whether the proposed conduct violates a provision of that Code.

For further information, contact Dean Bunch, Chair, Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, 3600 Maclay Boulevard South, Suite202, Tallahassee, Florida 32312.

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, Justice Liaison
John A Tomasino, Clerk of Supreme Court
All Committee Members
Executive Director of the Judicial Qualifications Committee
Office of the State Courts Administrator