FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2017-15
Date of Issue: August 28, 2017

ISSUE

May a judge speak to civic and community groups about the Constitutional Revision Commission (CRC) as part of a Florida Bar-sponsored “Protect Florida Democracy” program?

ANSWER: Yes.

FACTS

The inquiring judge has received requests to join a Speaker’s Bureau, made up of a statewide group of Florida Bar leaders, called the “Protect Florida Democracy” program. We are told that this program will educate members of civic and community groups about the CRC that occurs in Florida at twenty year intervals. The inquiring judge wants to join this bureau so that the judge can speak to civic and community groups about “Florida’s once-every-twenty-year review and revision” of the Florida Constitution. The speakers will be part of a group of volunteers statewide who will speak, at request, to civic and community groups about the CRC.

 

DISCUSSION

Canon 4B of Florida’s Code of Judicial Conduct permits a judge to “speak, write, lecture, teach and participate in other quasi-judicial activities concerning the law, the legal system, the administration of justice, and the role of the judiciary as an independent branch within our system of government, subject to the requirements of this Code.” The inquiring judge wants to speak about the activities of the CRC as part of a Florida Bar sponsored program.

Recently, in Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinion 16-19, we stated that a sitting judge may apply to be considered for appointment to the Florida Constitution Revision Commission. We cited to Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinion 07-03, reiterating that judges are allowed to serve as members of governmental bodies, like the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, since it is a commission, like others cited, that is devoted to the improvement of the law, legal system and administration of justice.

We concluded that “the inquiring Judge may seek and accept an appointment to the CRC, being careful not to allow the work of the CRC to interfere with the performance of the judge’s judicial duties, because the work of the Commission meets the requirements of Canon 5(C)(2), involving ‘improvement of the law, the legal system and the administration of justice.’” Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinion 16-19.

Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinion 76-26 stated that an inquiring judge may file an amicus brief, if an advisory opinion is requested by the Supreme Court, about the Constitutional Revision Commission. This opinion relied on Canon 4, which recognized “the propriety of a judge engaging in activities to improve the law, the legal system and the administration of justice . . .”

Thus, we conclude that since a judge can apply to be a member of the CRC, and consequently can be a member of the CRC, then certainly the inquiring judge may speak to community and civic groups about the functions of the CRC. The CRC is a part of the Florida Constitutional form of government. The CRC is one of the various methods that can be utilized to amend the Florida Constitution. Speaking about the CRC and this particular method of amending the Florida Constitution would be consistent with Canon 4B and speaking about “the law, the legal system and the administration of justice.”

Since the program is designed for the statewide leaders of the Florida Bar, the inquiring judge should be careful that the speech given, and the groups spoken to, also comport with all the Canons of the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct.

 

REFERENCES

Fla. Code of Jud. Conduct, Canons 4B and 5(C)(2).
Fla. JEAC Ops. 16-19, 07-03, and 76-26.

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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 Miguel de la O, Chair, Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, Eleventh Circuit, Richard E. Gerstein Justice Building, 1351 N.W. 12th Street, Room 424, Miami, FL 33125.

Participating Members:
Participating Members: Judge Michael F. Andrews, 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, and 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