FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2018-07
Date of Issue: April 26, 2018

The JEAC has received multiple inquiries related to filling out Financial Disclosure Form 6A for 2017. To facilitate review of these related inquiries, they are all set forth below. Our responses are focused on financial disclosure and are based on our interpretation of the applicable Canons of the Code of Judicial Conduct, prior JEAC opinions, and other resources as specifically noted. Because of this focus, we are not addressing other ethical considerations related to attendance or participation at any particular event, acceptance of a gift, reimbursements, payments, or fee waivers. You must read the financial disclosure forms and instructions and Canons 5 and 6 carefully in order to understand what must be reported generally and for which items you must provide a dollar amount or value.

 

ISSUES

1. Do I need to report complimentary attendance at a bar association-related luncheon, dinner, reception, or social event?

ANSWER: No; not typically. Canon 5D(5)(a) was amended on May 18, 2017 to address gift disclosure in accordance with the then-newly adopted law. In Re Amendments to the Code of Judicial Conduct, 218 So. 3d 432 (Fla. 2017). This sub-section specifically exempts reporting complimentary attendance at bar-related functions such as lunch, dinner, or a social event, as long as the value of attending a single event does not exceed $100 for you, and your guest if applicable. This should apply to such bar-related lunch, dinner, or social events hosted by the ABA, Florida Bar, county bar associations, special interest bar associations, and sections, committees or subcommittees of same. Unlike Canon 5D(5)(h) there is no annual aggregate reporting threshold under Canon 5D(5)(a). Canon 6B(2) requires each judge to file a public report of only those gifts required to be disclosed under Cannons 5D(5)(a) and 5D(5)(h). This means you may attend multiple qualifying free bar association lunches, dinners, receptions, and other social events throughout the year from one or multiple associations, as long as attendance at each event is less than $100 with no need to report same. The Florida Supreme Court specifically “encourage[s] all judges to continue to attend, whenever possible, these events which allow our judges to meet with members of the Bar.” In Re Amendments, 218 So. 3d at 434.
Exception: if the value of attending a single event exceeds $100 you must report it.

2. Do I need to report complimentary attendance at a legal aid, law school, lawyers association, university, high school, community service organization, or similar entity luncheon, dinner, or reception that is devoted to improvement of the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice?

ANSWER: No; not typically. Judges are often invited to attend various events sponsored by such entities, either simply as guests or as speakers. Relying upon Canon 5D(5)(a), you do not need to report it as long as the goal of the event or your role in the event satisfies the devotion to improvement of the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice and the value of attending a single event does not exceed $100 for you and your guest, if applicable.
Exceptions: (i) if the value of attending a single event exceeds $100 you must report it, (ii) if the event is not devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice, you must report it.

3. Must I report small gifts from bar associations and educational organizations given as a token of appreciation or memento to judges who are speakers/presenters or who advise or judge moot court or mock trial competitions sponsored by the association or organization?

ANSWER: No; not typically. Canon 5D(5)(h) requires reporting such gifts only where the single gift exceeds $100 or the aggregate value of such gifts from a single source exceeds $100 in the same calendar year. Regardless of the value, you may not accept any gifts from those who or whose interests have been or are likely to come before you.

4. Do I have to report the waiver of annual dues to continue to be an active member of the same county bar association that I joined before I became a judge? Attorneys have to pay annual dues, over $100, to be a member. Judges are not charged any annual dues.

ANSWER: No. Canon 5D(5)(a) permits a judge to attend any bar-related function without the need to report as long as the value of attending an individual function or event does not exceed $100. The Committee concludes that the primary, if not exclusive, financial benefit of membership in a county bar association is the member’s right to attend most bar association meetings, luncheons, dinners, receptions, and other bar-related social functions without charge. JEAC opinion 84-4 discusses the historical nature of including judges as honorary, non-dues paying members, and notes that such meetings are law related and provide appropriate settings for contact between members of the Bar and Bench to work together for the improvement of the legal system.

5. Do I have to report honorary bar association memberships? Some county bar associations charge attorneys annual dues, but include all judges in all courts serving that county in any capacity (county, circuit, district, and supreme court) as honorary members of the association; none of the judges are charged dues. While the automatic inclusion is appreciated, I have not attended any meeting or function of any of those associations.

ANSWER: No. Considering our answer to question 4, there is no reason to report any honorary bar association membership when you never attend any of that association’s bar-related functions.

6. Do I report waiver of annual foreign bar fees or dues? I am an inactive member of another state or territory’s bar association that charges inactive attorney-members annual fees or dues exceeding $100, but does not charge me or any other judge-members annual dues.

ANSWER: Yes. Canon 6A(3) requires judges to report full or partial waivers of fees or charges that exceed $100 from the same source in the same calendar year. To the extent that you are allowed to maintain your foreign bar membership without having to pay the same fee charged to inactive attorney-members, you are receiving something of value through a fee or charge waiver.

7. Do I have to report complimentary admission to a legal seminar, where non-judges were charged a fee to attend?

ANSWER: It depends. Under Canon 6A(3) you must report it if the amount of fee or charge that was waived, together with any other fees or charges that the same source waived, exceeds $100 in the same calendar year. Otherwise, you do not.

8. Do I have to report reimbursement or direct payment of travel expenses and tuition waivers related to attendance at a two-day legal seminar outside the state? The seminar sponsor reimbursed me for my airfare. My room at the hotel, attendance at the seminar, and seminar-related meals were provided to me at no charge.

ANSWER: Yes. Canon 6A permits judges to accept expense reimbursement or direct payment of such expenses, limited to the actual and reasonable cost of travel, food, and lodging, together with full or partial fee waivers for registration or tuition associated with participation in otherwise permissible quasi-judicial and extrajudicial activities. Canon 6A(3), as amended in May 2017, requires you to report same if the amount of the reimbursement or waiver alone or combined with others from the same source in the same calendar year exceeds $100. Please note that several older JEAC opinions, e.g. 91-9, 91-20, 99-23, which concluded in part, that a judge did not have to report travel reimbursements related to quasi-judicial activities are no longer accurate, given the 2017 amendments.

9. Do I have to report reimbursement of travel expenses and direct payment of expenses related to my attendance at the annual, statewide conference of the judges of my court (county, circuit or district court judges)? There were continuing judicial education (CJE) seminars; at least half of our mandatory CJE credits must be obtained during such a judges’ conference. Breakfast, lunch, and light refreshments were provided to all judges at no charge. I was reimbursed by the state for my hotel room and mileage. Some judges have shared the opinion that reporting state-paid reimbursements was not really intended as that information is readily available from the state. Do I identify the “Source” of the payments or reimbursements on the form as the state?

ANSWER: Yes, reporting is required and the source should be listed as the State of Florida. As amended in 2017, Canon 6A(3) requires judges attending quasi-judicial activities to report reimbursement of travel expenses, direct payment of travel expenses, and full or partial fee waivers that exceed $100 individually or combined with other such reimbursements, direct payments or waivers from the same source in the same calendar year. Attending such conferences is a quasi-judicial function, even though you are fulfilling CJE requirements. We are aware of the repeatedly expressed opinion that reporting state-paid reimbursements was not intended when developing the new disclosure rules; however, there is nothing in this Canon that exempts reporting where the source is the state. The JEAC will bring this issue to the Supreme Court’s attention and request an amendment so that reporting of state-sourced reimbursements will not be required in the future. The situation is different if you are entitled to reimbursement or direct payment of reasonable travel-related expenses incurred while performing judicial duties, such as attending court proceedings away from your home court - you are not required to report those.

10. I have been designated by my court conference to travel to Tallahassee relating to legislative matters, typically during the legislature’s sessions. Because of the importance of input from the judicial branch to ensure our continued ability to serve the people of Florida, the travel and reimbursements are authorized by my court conference and reimbursed by the state. Do I have to report the reimbursements or direct payments of these travel expenses?

ANSWER: Yes. According to Canon 6A(3), the reimbursements and direct payments of travel expenses for those essential quasi-judicial functions must be reported if they exceed $100 from the same source in the same calendar year. On Form 6A the source should be identified as the State of Florida.

 

REFERENCES

In Re Amendments to the Code of Judicial Conduct, 218 So. 3d 432 (Fla. 2017)
Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canons 5D(5)(a), 5D(5)(h), 6A, 6A(3), 6(B)(2)
Fla. JEAC Ops. 99-23, 91-20, 91-9, 84-4

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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, 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, Judge David Green, Mark Herron, Esquire, Judge Barbara Lagoa, Judge Spencer D. Levine, Judge Michael Raiden and Charles Reynolds, Esquire.


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 judges (Name of the Inquiring Judges 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