FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2017-10
Date of Issue: May 16, 2017

ISSUE

May a judge attend a private organization’s seminar, that is neither court nor bar association sponsored, regarding diversity and racial equality at the judge’s own expense?

ANSWER: Yes.

FACTS

The inquiring judge has been invited to attend a seminar that will focus on diversity and racial equality and will pay the seminar fee personally. The seminar is presented by a private organization and is not sponsored by any court or bar association. Because the JEAC members saw no ethical issues presented by attending such a seminar, we inquired further of the judge. The inquiring judge wanted to ensure that attendance at this seminar would not be viewed as the judge being partial.

 

DISCUSSION

As we recently noted, diversity training is mandatory for judges, and participation in programs is typically permitted and encouraged. Fla. JEAC Op. 17-04; see also Fla. JEAC Op. 03-01 (stating that judge may serve in leadership role on nonpartisan board to improve community race relations); Fla. JEAC Op. 93-22 (stating that a judge may participate in group project called “Help Stamp Out Hate” that was intended to promote positive intergroup relations, greater intergroup understandings, and included a cross section of religions, races, and ethnicities). The inquiring judge is aware of Canon 3B(2), which requires judges to be faithful to the law, and Canon 3B(5), which requires judges to perform judicial duties without bias or prejudice and prohibits manifesting favorable or unfavorable racial, ethnic, religious, or other bias or prejudice by words or conduct. Because the JEAC does not evaluate seminars or speakers, each judge must determine whether the seminar he or she wishes to attend is appropriate.

 

REFERENCES

Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canons 3B(2) and 3B(5).
Fla. JEAC Ops. 17-04, 03-01, 93-22.

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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 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, Michael Andrews.


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