FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2017-24 (Election)1
Date of Issue: December 17, 2017

ISSUE

Whether a judicial candidate may establish open Facebook page that would request individuals to sign petitions that permit the candidate to qualify without paying the qualifying fee otherwise required by law.

ANSWER: No. However, a committee of responsible persons may establish and maintain a Facebook page in support of a judicial candidate’s campaign, so long it is clear that the Facebook page is not maintained by the candidate personally.

 

FACTS

The inquiring judge is a candidate seeking reelection who has opened a campaign account and is currently collecting petition cards. The candidate wishes to set up an open Facebook page associated with the reelection campaign. The inquiring judge understands that a judicial candidate cannot ask for contributions or fundraise through a Facebook page.

Currently there is no active opposition to the inquiring judge’s reelection. The inquiring judge asks whether there is any time restriction on when the Facebook page can be opened, when it can be made public, and when it can begin to be populated.

  
DISCUSSION

Florida’s Code of Judicial Conduct, Canon 7C(1) provides, in relevant part, that “[a] candidate…for judicial office…shall not personally solicit campaign funds, or solicit attorneys for publicly stated support, but may establish committees of responsible persons to secure and manage the expenditures of funds for the candidate’s campaign and to obtain public statements of support for his or her candidacy.”

As we explained in Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinion 09-20 social networking sites, such as Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn, can be used for a variety of purposes, including for political campaigning. In Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinion 10-21, we opined, “placing of the word ‘contribute’ on a web site maintained by the candidate personally would be a solicitation of campaign funds.” Therefore, “[t]he internet site must be clear that it is being managed by the committee established under Canon 7C(1) and that the candidate is not the one making the solicitation. Otherwise, it would be a violation of Canon 7.” We also have opined: “Websites and Facebook pages promoting the candidacy of a judge or judicial candidates should be established and maintained by these committees, and not by the judge or judicial candidate personally.” Fla. JEAC Ops. 10-28 and 08-11.

The Committee stated in Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinion 12-15, “if a website supporting the election of a judicial candidate is to solicit campaign funds or attorneys’ publicly stated support, that activity may not be conducted by the candidate personally, but instead must be conducted by a committee of responsible persons established ‘to secure and manage the expenditures of funds for the candidate’s campaign and to obtain public statements of support for his or her candidacy.’”

The Committee is of the view that asking voters to sign the petitions to waive the qualifying fee is a solicitation for publicly stated support. Florida’s Code of Judicial Conduct, Canon 7C(1) prohibits judicial candidates from personally soliciting attorneys for publicly stated support. Soliciting lawyers to sign a petition waiving the qualifying fee is “soliciting for publicly stated support” and would be a violation of Canon 7.

Therefore, only a committee of responsible persons sponsoring a Facebook page may solicit attorneys to sign a petition to waive the qualifying fee of a judicial candidate.

 

REFERENCES

Fla. Code of Judicial Conduct, Canons 7C(1)

Fla. JEAC Op. 08-11, 09-20, 10-21, 10-28, 12-15

_____________


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

 

1. The Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee has appointed an Election Practices Subcommittee. The purpose of this subcommittee is to give immediate responses to campaign questions in instances where the normal Committee procedure would not provide a response in time to be useful to the inquiring candidate or judge. Opinions designated with the “(Election)” notation are opinions of the Election Practices Subcommittee of the Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, and have the same authority as an opinion of the whole Committee.