FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2016-21
Date of Issue: November 29, 2016

ISSUES

1. May a judge attend the 2017 Presidential Inauguration?

ANSWER: Yes, as long as no funds are paid to a partisan political organization.

2. May a judge attend the Florida Inaugural Ball being hosted by the Florida State Society?

ANSWER: Yes, as long as no funds are paid to a partisan political organization and attendance is not limited to members of one partisan political party.

FACTS

The inquiring judge would like to attend the 2017 Presidential Inauguration and the 2017 Florida Inaugural Ball, which the judge states is being hosted by the Florida State Society.

 

DISCUSSION

In JEAC Op. 92-41 this Committee reached the unanimous conclusion that it is permissible for a judge to attend a presidential inauguration and inaugural ball provided that no funds are paid to a partisan political organization and attendance is not limited to members of one partisan political party. We see no reason to depart from our prior opinion.1

Canon 7 of the Code of Judicial Conduct prohibits a judge from inappropriate political activity. That prohibition expressly extends to, among other activities, publicly endorsing or opposing another candidate for public office, making speeches on behalf of a political organization, attending political party functions, paying an assessment or contribution to a political organization or candidate, or purchasing tickets for political party dinners or other functions. Fla. Code. Jud. Conduct, Canon 7A. Thus, in attending the presidential inauguration and inaugural ball, the judge must be careful to avoid running afoul of Canon 7 or 7A.

The Committee believes that mere attendance at any particular presidential inauguration does not violate Canon 7. Attendance at a presidential inauguration does not amount to a public endorsement or an implicit statement of support for a candidate for public office or a particular political party. Nor does it constitute attendance at a political party function. Rather, a presidential inauguration is open to members of all political persuasions; it is a national celebration for the entire country. See Fla.JEAC Op. 12-03 n.3. Indeed, it is implicit in the intended peaceful transition of power in this country that citizens of all political persuasions accept the election of the prevailing candidate. Celebration of the election of any presidential candidate should not therefore be deemed to be inappropriate political activity, even after a campaign season marked by robust and divisive partisan political activity.

In making arrangements for and attending the inauguration, however, the judge should be careful not to otherwise violate Canon 7 or any other provision of the Code. For example, the judge may not make payments to a political organization in order to obtain premium seating at the inauguration. Simply put, the judge must at all times avoid inappropriate political activity or the appearance of impropriety, and shall uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary. Fla. Code. Jud. Conduct, Canons 1, 2, and 7.

With respect to attendance at the Florida Inaugural Ball, the same prohibitions apply. The judge states that the Florida Inaugural Ball is being hosted by the Florida State Society. The Committee has no reason to believe that the Florida State Society is a partisan political organization or that the Florida Inaugural Ball is a political party function. Ultimately however, it is the responsibility of the judge to make reasonable and sufficient inquiry to assure that any payment being made, either by the judge or on the judge’s behalf, to attend the Florida Inaugural Ball involves no funds being paid to a partisan political organization, and that attendance at the Ball is not limited to members of one partisan political party.

 

REFERENCES

Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canons 1, 2, 7, 7A.
Fla. JEAC Op. 12-03, 92-41.

_____________


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, Judge Barbara Lagoa, Judge Spencer D. Levine, Judge K. Douglas Henderson, Mark Herron, 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

 

 

 

 

1. To the extent that JEAC Op. 12-03 may be perceived as a departure from our opinion in JEAC Op. 92-41, the Committee points out that in footnote 3 of JEAC Op. 12-03, the Election Practices Subcommittee expressly distinguished its opinion there from JEAC Op. 92-41, explaining that it had determined that the victory party addressed in that opinion was a campaign-related event.