FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2017-22
Date of Issue: December 12, 2017

ISSUE

May a judge accept an award from a local voluntary bar association at an annual scholarship gala that serves as a fundraiser for law students?

ANSWER: Yes, as long as the judge makes reasonable and continuous efforts to ensure that the judge’s participation falls within the parameters of the relevant Canons.

FACTS

The inquiring judge has been nominated to accept an award from a local voluntary bar association. The award will be presented at the association’s annual scholarship gala, which raises money for a law school scholarship fund supporting three to four law students each year. The association is a not-for-profit organization that organizes CLE events, clinics, and meetings with other voluntary bar associations. The inquiring judge wants to know if the judge can accept the award from this voluntary bar association at the annual scholarship gala.

 

DISCUSSION

In Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinion 08-17, we discussed the limited circumstances when a judge may appear at a fundraiser. “Canon 4D(2) was amended to permit a judge to ‘appear or speak at, receive an award or other recognition at, be featured on the program of, and permit the judge’s title to be used in conjunction with an event . . .’ of an organization or governmental entity that is devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system, the judicial branch, or the administration of justice. ‘[B]ut, if the event serves a fundraising purpose, the judge may participate only if the event concerns the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice.’”). Fla. JEAC Op. 08-17 (citing Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 4D(2)(b)).

Opinion 08-17 reiterates that “prior to agreeing to participate in such events” it is the responsibility of the inquiring judge to make sure that the organization meets the criteria set forth in Canon 4D(2)(b). Fla. JEAC Op. 08-17. Further, “the onus is on the judge who agrees to participate in a fundraiser pursuant to Canon 4D(2)(b) to determine that none of the prohibitions in Canon 4A(1)-(6) exist.” Id. The inquiring judge “also has a continuing obligation to remain vigilant that none of the prohibitions in Canon 4A(1)-(6) are violated.” Id.

The fundraiser here “concerns the law,” as it is hosted by a local bar association, and supports legal education scholarships, which constitutes a “law-related purpose.” It therefore falls within the category of permissible events under Canon 4D(2)(b).

The commentary to Canon 4D(2)(b) states that “judges may not participate in or allow their titles to be used in connection with fund-raising activities on behalf of an organization engaging in advocacy if such participation would cast doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially as a judge.” Further, the commentary to Canon 4D(2) prohibits a judge from “personal or direct solicitation of funds for an organization” since there is a “danger that the person solicited will feel obligated to respond favorably to the solicitor if the solicitor is a person of influence or control.”

With these restrictions in mind and within the parameters of the relevant Canons, the inquiring judge may receive the award at the scholarship gala consistent with our opinion in 2008-17.

 

REFERENCES

Fla. Code of Jud. Conduct, Canons 4D(2)(b) and 4A(1)-(6).
Fla. JEAC Op. 2008-17.

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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:
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