FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2016-20
Date of Issue: November 28, 2016

ISSUES

1. May the inquiring judge serve on a local bar association committee formed to host a golf tournament, which is a fundraising event for the Guardian Ad Litem Foundation, an entity that appears in every dependency case coming before the judge?

ANSWER: No.

2. May the inquiring judge attend the golf tournament and assist with organizational tasks such as setting up the silent auction, serving food and beverages, setting up hole sponsor signs, taking pictures, and other non-fundraising tasks?

ANSWER: Yes.

FACTS

The inquiring judge hears dependency cases, among other matters, and the Guardian Ad Litem Foundation is a litigant in every case that comes before the judge. The local bar association, of which the judge is a member, hosts an annual golf tournament. This year the funds are being raised for the Guardian Ad Litem Foundation.

The inquiring judge has been asked to serve on the committee planning the event. The committee will be involved in fund raising. However, there are many non-fundraising roles that could be performed that are merely organizational and planning related. Some of the non-fundraising sub-committees include volunteer coordinator, food and beverage coordinator, coordinating the production and display of hole sponsor signs (without involvement in procuring hole sponsors), planning, and coordinating the silent auction (without solicitation of donations), and organizing golf teams (without solicitation of golfers). The inquiring judge’s name is not being used in any capacity to solicit donations, sponsors, or golfers, nor is the inquiring judge being asked to speak at the event.

In addition, the inquiring judge wishes to attend the golf tournament and assist with organizational tasks such as setting up the silent auction, serving food and beverages, setting up hole sponsor signs, taking pictures, and other non-fundraising tasks.

 

DISCUSSION

Canon 5A(1) requires that a judge conduct all extra-judicial activities so that they do not “cast reasonable doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially as a judge.” ┬áCanon 5C(3) permits a judge to serve as an officer, director, trustee or non-legal advisor of an educational, religious, charitable, fraternal, sororal or civic organization not conducted for profit, subject to the limitations and the other requirements of the Code of Judicial Conduct.” However, Canon 5C(3)(a) provides that “[a] judge shall not serve as an officer, director, trustee or non-legal advisor if it is likely that the organization (i) will be engaged in proceedings that would ordinarily come before the judge, or (ii) will be engaged frequently in adversary proceedings in the court of which the judge is a member or in any court subject to the appellate jurisdiction of the court of which the judge is a member.”

Service on the committee charged with the responsibility of raising funds for an entity that appears in every dependency case coming before the inquiring judge “casts reasonable doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially as a judge” as prohibited by Canon 5A(1), even if the inquiring judge is engaged in non-fundraising activities as a member of the committee.

Mere attendance at a fundraising event does not violate the Canons. Specifically, Canon 5C(3)(b) permits the inquiring judge to attend the golf tournament and assist with organizational tasks such as setting up the silent auction, serving food and beverages, setting up hole sponsor signs, taking pictures, and other non-fundraising tasks.

 

REFERENCES

Fla. Code of Jud. Conduct, Canons, 5A(1), 5C(3), 5C(3)(a), 5C(3)(b).

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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