FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2016-17
Date of Issue: September 20, 2016

ISSUES

1. May a judge own an interest in a closely held business with a person who is not a member of the judge’s family, be employed by this business during non-business hours, and be compensated for services provided by the business?

ANSWER: No.

2. May a judge be employed by a closely held business where the judge’s spouse owns an interest in the business with a person who is not a member of the judge’s family?

ANSWER: No.

FACTS

The inquiring judge wishes to become an owner of a closely held business with a person who is not a member of the judge’s family. The business provides sales, management, consultation, logistics, and marketing services for the generation of non-attorney customers being referred to independent insurance adjusters. The business is an online, web-based business that generates leads for public adjusters. Payment would be made by the public adjuster by a one-time fee or on a fee per lead basis to the company. The inquiring judge would be compensated from the profits of the company.

In the alternative, if the inquiring judge is unable to be a part owner of a closely held business with another person who is not a member of the judge’s family, and be employed thereby, the judge inquires as to whether his wife could own a portion of the closely held business with another person who is not a member of the judge’s family, and the inquiring judge be employed by that business.

 

DISCUSSION

Canon 5D(3) prohibits a judge from serving at all as an officer, director, manager, general partner, advisor, or employee of any business entity except a business closely held by the judge or members of the judge’s family, or a business entity primarily engaged in the investment of the financial resources of the judge or members of the judge’s family. It does not appear that the latter exception to Canon 5D(3) is applicable to this inquiry.

The commentary to Canon 5D(3) provides that, subject to the requirements of the code, a judge may participate in a business that is closely held either by the judge alone, by members of the judge’s family, or by the judge and members of the judge’s family. Neither scenario presented by the inquiring judge fits within this limited exception.

Therefore, a judge may not own an interest in a closely held business with another person who is not a member of the judge’s family, work for, and be compensated by that business. Further, a judge may not be employed by a business that is owned in part by his or her spouse with another person who is not a member of the judge’s family. See Fla. JEAC Op. 16-12.

 

REFERENCES

Fla. Code of Jud. Conduct, Canon, 5D(3)
Fla. JEAC Op. 16-12

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

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 Spencer D. Levine, Chair, Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, Fourth District Court of Appeal, 1525 Palm Beach Lakes Blvd., West Palm Beach, FL 33401

Participating Members:
Judge Roberto Arias, Judge Nina Ashenafi-Richardson, Judge W. Joel Boles, Judge Lisa Davidson, Judge Miguel de la O, Judge James A. Edwards, Mark Herron, Esquire, Judge Barbara Lagoa, Judge Spencer D. Levine, Judge K. Douglas Henderson, Patricia E. Lowry, Esquire, Judge Michael Raiden.


All Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee opinions, subject matter indices, and a search engine are available on the Sixth Circuit’s website at www.jud6.org under Opinions. Committee opinions and related finding tools are also accessible on the Florida Supreme Court’s website at www.floridasupremecourt.org as a secondary posting under Court Opinions.


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