FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2015-12
Date of Issue: November 3, 2015

ISSUE

May a judge assume the position of officer of an organization, with the view that the judge would move up the officer ranks to the presidency, where the organization’s stated purpose is to benefit the families of law enforcement officers and firefighters in circumstances where the officers and firefighters lost their lives in the line of duty?

ANSWER: No.

FACTS

The inquiring judge has been a member of an organization, whose stated purpose is to benefit the families of law enforcement officers and firefighters, where the officers and firefighters lost their lives in the line of duty. The organization requested the inquiring judge to assume an officer position within this organization, with the view that the inquiring judge would move up the ranks to the position of president of that organization.

 

DISCUSSION

The inquiring judge wants to know whether the inquiring judge can accept this leadership position. This discussion starts with the consideration of the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct, Canon 2A, which instructs that judges must avoid all appearances of impropriety. “The test for appearance of impropriety is whether the conduct would create in reasonable minds, with knowledge of all the relevant circumstances that a reasonable inquiry would disclose, a perception that the judge’s ability to carry out judicial responsibilities with integrity, impartiality, and competence is impaired.” Commentary to Canon 2A.

Previously this Committee found in Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinion 94-15 that it would be improper for an inquiring judge to be on the Board of Directors of the Police Officers Assistant Trust. “A majority of our members, however, feel that the title of the organization would identify it to be a prosecution oriented group and for a judge to be a member would be in conflict with the neutrality required of judges.”

This Committee found in Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinion 00-04 that a hearing officer would violate the Code of Judicial Conduct by raising an appearance of impropriety, if the hearing officer attended a local police department’s Citizens Police Academy. Although the facts differ in this matter with Opinion 00-04, the underlying rationale is instructive.

The Committee found that the “prolonged, familiar contact” that was part of the Citizens Police Academy “may create a reasonable perception that casts doubt on the hearing officer’s impartiality, interfere with his/her duties, and detract from the dignity” of the office. If the inquiring judge became an officer of the organization with the view of moving up the ranks, that could also create a reasonable perception that could cast doubt on the impartiality of the inquiring judge.

Therefore, the Committee believes the inquiring judge should not accept this officer position with this organization.

Additionally, although not asked by the inquiring judge, the Committee has insufficient information to say whether the inquiring judge’s membership in this organization is permissible or not. We cannot take a position on membership in this organization by the inquiring judge, without more information regarding the particulars of this organization.

 

REFERENCES

Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 2A, and Commentary to Canon 2A.
Fla. JEAC Ops. 00-04 and 94-15.

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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 Judge Barbara Lagoa, Chair, Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, Third District Court of Appeal, 2001 S.W. 117th Avenue, Miami, FL 33175.

Participating Members:
Participating Members: Judge Roberto Arias, Judge Nina Ashenafi-Richardson, Judge Robert T. Benton, Dean Bunch, Esquire, Judge Lisa Davidson, Judge Jack Espinosa, Jr., Judge Spencer Levine, Judge Miguel de la O, Judge Barbara Lagoa, Patricia E. Lowry, Esquire, and Judge Michael Raiden.


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