FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2015-03
Date of Issue: March 18, 2015

ISSUE

May a judge disclose nonpublic information that came up in a nonpublic domestic violence injunction case about a party to that case to the employer(s) of that party?

ANSWER: No.

FACTS

The inquiring judge has presided over a nonpublic domestic violence case in which the inquiring judge learned that the party was training to work for employers and would have to interact with children as part of the party’s employment. The inquiring judge does not believe that a background search would disclose the nonpublic information from the domestic violence injunction case.

During the domestic violence injunction case, which is now closed, the inquiring judge heard several derogatory allegations of the party’s conduct that makes the inquiring judge question the ability of the party to interact with children. The inquiring judge made a DCF report. The inquiring judge also understands that, DCF would not share the report with the party’s employers. The inquiring judge wants to know if the inquiring judge can share this information with the party’s employers since the case has closed and if the disclosure would now relate to the judges’ judicial duties.

 

DISCUSSION

For the purpose of this opinion, we assume the inquiring judge will follow all relevant statutes in determining if the information is public or nonpublic, or if the inquiring judge is required by statute to report or disclose as mandated by law. This opinion is limited to interpretation of the Canons.

Canon 3B(12) states that “(a) judge shall not disclose or use, for any purpose unrelated to judicial duties, nonpublic information acquired in a judicial capacity.”

The facts of this inquiry clearly state that the information is nonpublic and as such would come within the ambit of this canon provision. Thus, the main issue to consider is whether the disclosure of “nonpublic” information relates to the duties of a judge.

This committee previously considered in JEAC 98-21, whether a judge must report an attorney for professional misconduct when the misconduct was discovered during an “in camera inspection.” JEAC 98-21 opined that “Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 3(B) (11) states that a judge shall not disclose or use, for any purpose unrelated to judicial duties, nonpublic information acquired in a judicial capacity. A judge’s judicial duties include reporting attorney misconduct, as explained below. Canon 3(D) (2) directs a judge...shall take appropriate action.”

In the present case, the inquiring judge is not in receipt of information related to judicial duties, like the regulation of the conduct of Florida Bar members. Rather, the judge inquires about disclosing conduct allegedly committed by a party to a domestic violence hearing heard by the inquiring judge. The judge asks whether disclosure to the party’s employer would be in violation of the Code.

Clearly, the inquiring judge acquired the derogatory information in a judicial capacity, and the disclosure to the party’s employers would be unrelated to the inquiring judge’s judicial duties. The Canon explicitly limits disclosure “for any purpose” unless the disclosure relates to the inquiring judge’s judicial duties.

 

REFERENCES

Fla. Code of Judicial Conduct, Canon 3B (12) (original version numbered Canon 3B (11)).

Fla. JEAC Op. 98-21

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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:
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 T. Michael Jones, Judge Barbara Lagoa, Patricia E. Lowry, Esquire, Judge Michael Raiden, Judge Spencer D. Levine, 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