FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2018-02 (Election)1
Date of Issue: February 4, 2018

ISSUES

1. May a judge’s parents and brother attend the judge spouse’s public announcement of spouse’s candidacy for elected office?

ANSWER: Yes.

2. May the judge’s family and children attend and be introduced at the public announcement, as well as campaign events?

ANSWER: Yes, so long as the judge’s position is not mentioned or featured at the announcement or campaign events.

3. May judge’s parents and brother attend future fundraising events for spouse’s campaign?

ANSWER: Yes, so long as the judge’s relationship and position are not mentioned or featured at the event.

4. May the candidate spouse explain the judge’s absence by conveying that the spouse’s job or profession does not allow spouse to attend or endorse any candidate for office?

ANSWER: Yes.

 

FACTS

The Inquiring Judge’s (Judge) spouse has decided to run for an elected office. The spouse will be making a public announcement where the Judge’s parents, brother, and their joint children are wishing to attend. The Judge’s family will be introduced at this announcement. During the spouse’s campaign, the Judge’s spouse expects that either the press will ask about or the candidate will need to explain the Judge’s absence from the events.

The Judge acknowledges that the Judge is ethically prohibited from attending the public announcement, fundraisers, public campaign appearances, as well as a post- election celebration. However, the Judge is concerned about the other family members’ attendance at such events. Therefore, the Judge poses questions about whether the Judge family members’ contemplated conduct is appropriate and whether their conduct might cause the Judge in some way to violate the Canons of Judicial Conduct.

  
DISCUSSION

Canon 7 of the Code of Judicial Conduct, A Judge or Candidate Shall Refrain From Inappropriate Political Activity, governs this inquiry. Canon 7, in relevant part, provides

A. All Judges and Candidates

(1) . . .a judge. . .shall not:

(b) publicly endorse or publicly oppose another candidate for public office;

•              •             •

(e) solicit funds for, pay an assessment to or make a contribution to a… candidate. . .

This Committee has previously dealt with cases where judge’s spouses have become candidates for elected office. In Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinion 07-13, the Committee noted that

Canon 7 is intended to disentangle judges and judicial candidates from inappropriate political activity, including partisan activities and endorsing other candidates. Canon 7A(1)(b) specifically prohibits a judge from publicly endorsing or publicly opposing other candidates for public office. This prohibition applies to all endorsements, whether by action or by words. The Supreme Court has explained that, despite good intentions, “Canon 7A is absolute in its prohibition of public endorsements of political candidates.” In re Glickstein, 620 So. 2d 1000, 1002 (Fla. 1993).

It is due to the prohibition of endorsements, why the Judge cannot attend the public announcement of the spouse’s candidacy or any other campaign- related events. Fla. JEAC Op. 17-16. The Committee, however, has also found that, where a judge’s spouse is a candidate for elected office, the judge’s existence cannot realistically be fully omitted. For example, we concluded that Canon 7 is not violated by the mere use of a family photograph in the spouse’s political campaign. This type of use of a judge’s photograph is allowed, so long as the judge’s office is not mentioned and no explicit endorsement is advertised or featured. Fla. JEAC Ops. 17-16; 07-13; 06-13; 98-19; and 90-07.

The Judge poses a number of questions dealing with attendance at fundraising events for the spouse’s candidacy. In sum, the judge wants to know if the judge’s parents, brother and children may attend and introduced at future fundraising events. Canon 7A(3)(b) requires a judicial candidate to “encourage members of the candidates family to adhere to the same standards of political conduct in support of the candidate as apply to the candidate.” (emphasis added). The Commentary to this Canon acknowledges that, in spite of the requirement to encourage family members to abstain from certain prohibited political conduct, “family members are free to participate in other political activity.” Therefore, while a candidate judge’s parents are prohibited from generating a letter soliciting campaign contributions for the judge’s campaign, Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinion 08-08, a judicial candidate’s spouse would not be prohibited from attending a political dinner event, so long as no campaigning on the candidate’s behalf occurred at the event. Fla. JEAC Op. 10-16.

Our Committee has consistently affirmed that a judge family member’s political activities are completely free of any restrictions, so long as those are conducted in the family member’s name, are entirely independent of the judge, there is no campaigning on behalf of the judge or the campaign and the judge or campaign are not referenced at the political event. Fla. JEAC Ops. 77-15; 07-13; 06-11; and 10-16. The family members herein will be attending a fundraiser of another candidate, the spouse, not the Judge. Thus, the prohibitions contained in Canon 7A(3) are not applicable to these family members because the Judge is not the candidate on behalf of whom they are attending the events. Therefore, their mere attendance and introduction at the fundraisers have no ethical consequence for the inquiring judge, so long as the judge’s identity and office are not mentioned, referenced or featured at those events. Moreover, there is nothing that prohibits the candidate spouse, if asked about the judge spouse’s absence, from truthfully explaining that the spouse is a judge and is not allowed to attend the campaign events.

 

REFERENCES

Fla. Code of Judicial Conduct, Canons 7A(1) & (3), and commentary.

Fla. JEAC Ops. 17-16, 10-16, 08-08, 07-13, 06-13, 06-11, 98-19, 90-07 and 77-15

_____________


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, Dade County Courthouse, 73 West Flagler Street, Room 1407, Miami, FL 33130.

Election Subcommittee Members:
Judge Roberto Arias, Judge Barbara Lagoa, Mark Herron, Esquire, and Judge Michael Raiden.

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.