FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2018-05
Date of Issue: February 26, 2018

ISSUE

May the inquiring judge permit a legal aid organization to list the judge as a member of the host committee on an invitation to the organization’s fundraising event?

ANSWER: Yes, as long as the inquiring judge complies with Canon 4, including its ban on direct solicitation of funds.

FACTS

The inquiring judge has been asked whether a legal aid organization in which the judge participates may identify the judge as a member of the organization’s host committee on a fundraiser invitation. The organization provides training to attorneys seeking to provide pro bono representation. The judge has participated with the organization in the past by providing education to member attorneys on specific practice issues. The judge plans on attending the fundraising event.

DISCUSSION

Canon 4 governs here, as the organization with which the inquiring judge is involved meets the Canon 4D definition. See Fla. JEAC Op. 14-15. The fundraiser is being held to benefit a program that trains lawyers for pro bono representation in a specific area of the law. Because its primary purpose is to educate lawyers to provide better pro bono representation, the organization is a law-related organization. See Fla. JEAC Op. 09-15 (“A non-profit legal services corporation which provides legal services to indigent persons is a law-related organization under Canon 4D”).

Under Canon 4D(2)(b), special rules apply to a judge’s participation in fundraising events held by organizations devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system, the judicial branch, or the administration of justice. A judge “may 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 such an organization or entity, but if the event serves a fund-raising purpose, the judge may participate only if the event concerns the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice and the funds raised will be used for a law related purpose(s).” Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 4D(2)(b).

Notably, the commentary to this canon states that a judge’s name may be used on an organization’s letterhead for fundraising and membership solicitation, provided the letterhead “lists only the judge’s name and office or other position in the organization, and, if comparable designations are listed for other persons, the judge’s judicial designation.” However, a judge is barred from directly soliciting funds for such an organization. Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 4D(2)(a) (barring direct solicitation except that a judge may solicit funds from other judges over whom the judge does not exercise supervisory or appellate authority); Fla. JEAC Op. 09-15 (opining that video interview of judge could not be used by legal services organization because it amounted to a direct solicitation).

In amending the Code of Judicial Conduct in 2008, the Supreme Court noted that it sought to “encourage meaningful judicial participation in law-related activities.” In re Amendments to the Code of Judicial Conduct—Limitations on Judges’ Participation in Fundraising Activities, 983 So. 2d 550, 552 (Fla. 2008). Since those amendments, we have repeatedly noted Canon 4 still prohibits direct solicitation of funds. See Fla. JEAC Op. 15-05 (barring judge from personally soliciting participation in bar association fundraiser); Fla. JEAC Op. 14-15 (allowing judge to sit on non-profit board unrelated to legal activity as long as the judge did not personally participate in solicitation of funds); Fla. JEAC Op. 14-07 (noting Canon 4D(2)(b)’s ban on “personally or directly participating in the solicitation of funds”); Fla. JEAC Op. 12-04 (prohibiting judge from directly soliciting donations from voluntary bar associations).

Of course, it remains the inquiring judge’s responsibility to ensure that the judge’s actions comply with the remainder of Canon 4, particularly Canon 4A(1)-(6). Additionally, Canon 4D(2)(b) requires that the inquiring judge’s participation in the fundraising event not cast doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially as a judge. Fla. JEAC Op. 08-17.

We note, as we did in Opinion 08-17, that it is crucial for the inquiring judge to “make extensive and comprehensive inquiries to those person(s) responsible for the fundraising event and those person(s) who are intimately knowledgeable about the current mission of the organization to determine if the criteria set forth in Canon 4D(2)(b) are met. The JEAC also urges judges to determine that the money collected from the fund-raising event is used for law-related purposes as required by Canon 4D(2)(b) and not commingled in an account used for other purposes.” Id.

 

REFERENCES

In re: Amendments to the Code of Judicial Conduct - Limitations on Judges' Participation in Fund-Raising Activities, 983 So. 2d 550, 552 (Fla. 2008).
Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canons 4A(1)-(6), 4D(2)(a), 4(D)(2)(b).
Fla. JEAC Op. 15-05, 14-15, 14-07, 12-04, 09-15, 08-17.

_____________


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

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