FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2015-02
Date of Issue: February 26, 2015

ISSUES

May a judge attend an award luncheon to accept an award and be inducted into a County Hall of Fame sponsored by the county’s Women's History Coalition, where program advertisements are sold to raise funds for the sponsoring organization?

ANSWER: No.

May the judge attend if the judge informs the organization that it cannot use the judge's name or office for fundraising in any way, such as by including the name or office in any advance publicity concerning the event, in the formal invitation, or in any advertisements or congratulatory messages in the program?

ANSWER: No.

FACTS

The inquiring judge has been selected to be one of a number of inductees into a Hall of Fame sponsored by the county’s Women's History Coalition, which holds a luncheon to honor the inductees. One significant purpose for the luncheon is to raise money for the sponsoring organization by selling either advertisements or inductee congratulatory messages to appear in the event’s program.

The inquiring judge has taken steps to avoid the judge's name being used in any way to raise money by informing the sponsoring organization that it cannot use the judge's name in any advance publicity concerning the event, in the formal invitation, or in the journal for any advertisements or congratulatory messages. 

The inquiring judge desires to attend the luncheon with family, close friends and colleagues to accept the recognition award and be inducted into the Hall of Fame. The ticket price for the luncheon will cover the cost of the meal and hall and not be a part of the fundraising effort.

 

DISCUSSION

This Committee has previously answered the first issue in Fla. JEAC Op. 99-09, in which it concluded that a judge may not receive an award and be inducted into a County Women’s Hall of Fame at an annual luncheon where program advertisements have been sold to raise funds for the organization. The Committee stated, “Canon 5C(3)(b)(i) prohibits a judge from personally participating in the solicitation of funds or other fund-raising activities. Canon 5C(3)(b)(iii) prohibits a judge from using or permitting the use of the prestige of judicial office for fund-raising. The Commentary to Canon 5C(3) (b)states that, ‘A judge must not be a speaker or guest of honor at an organization's fund-raising event....’"

The inquiring judge seeks the Committee’s opinion on whether its conclusion in Op. 99-09 would be different where the judge takes steps to avoid the judge's name being used in any way to raise money by informing the sponsoring organization that it cannot use the judge's name in any advance publicity concerning the event, in the formal invitation, or in the program for any advertisements or congratulatory messages.

The Committee recently revisited the proper participation of judges in civic and charitable organizations in light of the Supreme Court of Florida’s 2008 opinion amending Canons 4 and 5, Florida Code of Judicial Conduct. In JEAC Op. 14-15, the Committee wrote:

On May 22, 2008 the Florida Supreme Court amended Canons 4 and 5, Florida Code of Judicial Conduct, in In Re: Amendments to the Code of Judicial Conduct-Limitations on Judges’ Participation in Fundraising Activities, 983 So. 2d 550 (Fla. 2008). The amended Canons allow 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.

The majority opinion in In Re Amendments made it clear 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 the judge who wants to participate in a fundraising event to determine if the event meets Canon 4D(2)’s criteria. Id.

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Canon 5 allows a judge to serve as an officer, director, trustee or non-legal advisor of an educational, religious, charitable, fraternal, sororal or civic organization. A judge’s service would violate Canon 5 if the Judge engaged in solicitation of funds or if such service would be to use the prestige of office for a fundraising purpose. Fla. JEAC Op. 08-01, 78-9...

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A judge may also assist a nonprofit organization in planning a fundraiser and perform behind-the-scenes work. Fla. JEAC Op. 01-09. However, the inquiring Judge may not be a speaker, guest of honor, or otherwise be featured at the organization’s fundraising event. Fla. JEAC Op. 09-07. The judge’s name and position cannot be used in any fundraising activities or literature. The judge’s proper role in these activities is essentially to be behind the scenes, so as to insure that the prestige of judicial office is not used to advance the organization’s fundraising goals. Fla. JEAC Op. 05-07 also contains a thorough description of a judge’s proper role in assisting in the fundraising functions of a civic organization. See also Commentary to Canon 2B; Canon 5C(3)(b)(i); Fla. JEAC Ops. 90-20, 99-09, 99-15, 01-09, 05-09, 10-33, and 13-06.

Mere attendance at a fundraising event does not constitute a violation of Canon 5C(3)(b). It is generally permissible to perform subsidiary and unadvertised functions at fundraising events sponsored by educational, religious, charitable, fraternal, or civic organizations so long as they do not entail direct or personal solicitation. See Commentary to Canon 5C(3)(b).

The Committee observes that, despite having the occasion to do so in 2008, the Supreme Court did not relax the Code’s ethical restrictions against a judge being a speaker or guest of honor, or otherwise being featured, at a civic or charitable organization’s fund-raising event, unless the event concerns the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice as authorized by Canon 4D(2)(b). See Commentary to Canon 5C(3) (b). Thus, the Committee believes this inquiry has been answered previously by JEAC Op. 99-09, which concluded Florida’s Code of Judicial Conduct precludes the attendance of the judge at this fund-raising event..

 

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, Canon 5C(3)(b); Commentary to Canon 5C(3)(b).

Fla. JEAC Op. 14-15; 99-09.

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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.    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, II, Dean Bunch, Esquire, Judge Lisa Davidson, Judge Jack Espinosa, Jr., Judge Spencer Levine, Judge T. Michael Jones, Judge Barbara Lagoa, Patricia E. Lowry, Esquire, Judge Michael Raiden, 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