FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2016-02
Date of Issue: February 3, 2016

ISSUES

Whether potential ethical violations are raised for a judge when a law firm publicly acknowledges, promotes, or markets the fact that an attorney with the law firm is the child of a specifically named judge.

ANSWER: Yes. The judge must adamantly and genuinely encourage the law firm not to publicly acknowledge, promote, or market the attorney’s relationship with the judge.

FACTS

The Inquiring Judge’s child is an attorney in a law firm. The law firm desires to publicly acknowledge and market that relationship. Specifically, the law firm would like to include language identifying that the attorney is the child of the specific named Inquiring Judge and “follows in the footsteps” of the Inquiring Judge in the “decision to practice law” in a particular area of Florida. The law firm wants to use this information in press releases regarding the law firm’s hiring of the Inquiring Judge’s child in addition to including this in the law firm’s published biography of the Inquiring Judge’s child.

 

DISCUSSION

“A judge shall not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or others; nor shall a judge convey or permit others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence the judge.” Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 2B. In Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinion 06-10, the Committee opined that a judge may not assent to a congratulatory announcement mailed by the judge’s former law firm to clients of the law firm pertaining to the judge’s recent appointment to the bench. The Committee reasoned that by permitting the announcement, the judge would be lending the prestige of ascension to the bench to advance the private interests of the judge’s former law firm. The Committee further explained that sending the announcement to the law firm’s clients would give the appearance that the former law firm holds a special position of influence over the judge.

In the subject query, publicly announcing and marketing the relationship between the Inquiring Judge and child lends the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the law firm to which the Inquiring Judge’s child is a member. The public may be inclined to use this particular law firm because of the specific advertisement of this familial relationship between the judge and attorney child. Furthermore, it gives the public the impression that because the Inquiring Judge’s child is an attorney in the firm, that law firm has a special relationship with the Inquiring Judge or the Inquiring Judge’s colleagues. Utilizing the judge’s office in this fashion runs afoul of Canon 2B. See also Fla. JEAC Ops. 13-23 (judge ethically prohibited from posing for church photograph for “God and Country Day” to be published in newspaper if the photograph is to be utilized in the solicitation of members or donations); 10-35 (sitting judge may not permit mediation firm that judge will be joining to send out announcement that sitting judge will be joining the firm upon retirement); 03-03 (judge’s participation in a law firm's litigation program by presiding over mock trials at a law firm’s training retreat gives other firms and public the perception that judge has a special relationship with that particular law firm).

The JEAC recognizes that the law firm may reject the Judge’s request not to promote or advertise the Judge’s parent-child relationship with the attorney in the law firm. As we have instructed other judges in other JEAC opinions in which a third party is involved, the Inquiring Judge is advised to adamantly and genuinely encourage the law firm not to promote this relationship. See Fla. JEAC Ops. 12-06 (judicial candidate must encourage spouse not to campaign at a political party function wearing the judicial candidate’s campaign badge); 11-10 (judge instructed not to permit judge’s home to be used for a campaign gathering on behalf of a political candidate who is not a member of the household and judge must adamantly and genuinely encourage the spouse to host the event elsewhere). The Inquiring Judge is not ethically responsible for the actions of the law firm or any third party once the Inquiring Judge has apprised the third party not to take this action.

 

REFERENCES

Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 2B.

Fla. JEAC Ops. 13-23, 12-06, 11-10, 10-35, 06-10, and 03-03.

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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:
Judge Roberto Arias, Judge Nina Ashenafi-Richardson, Dean Bunch, Esq., Judge Lisa Davidson, Judge Miguel de la O, Judge Jack Espinosa, Jr., Judge K. Douglas Henderson, Judge Barbara Lagoa, Judge Spencer D. Levine, Patricia E. Lowry, Esq., 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