FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2018-09
Date of Issue: June 2, 2018

ISSUE

Whether a Judge serve as a commissioner with the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws.

ANSWER: Yes.

FACTS

The inquiry comes from a new Judge, who currently serves as a Commissioner for the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, also known as the Uniform Law Commission (ULC). Created by Section 11.249 of the Florida Statutes, it requires the Governor appoint three commissioners to the ULC who are approved by the Senate. The relevant portion of the statute dictates as follows:

The commissioners shall examine the subjects of marriage and dissolution of marriage, Insolvency, form of notarial certificates, descent and distribution of property, acknowledgment of deeds, execution and probate of wills, and other subjects; ascertain the best means to effect assimilation and uniformity in the laws of the state, and cooperate and advise with similar commissions appointed for a like purpose in other states of the union; and if wise and practicable, draft uniform laws to be submitted for the approval and adoption of the several states, and devise and recommend such other course of action as shall best accomplish the purposes of this section.

Information provided by the Inquiring Judge, as well as the website of the ULC, explains that the commissioners serve on committees that study or draft proposed model acts that are discussed at an annual meeting of all state commissions in an attempt to determine which areas of the law should be uniform. From there model rules and statutes are proposed to the respective state legislatures for consideration. The ULC serves in an advisory role only and has no plenary legislative powers. Commissioners serve without compensation but are reimbursed for travel expenses.

 

DISCUSSION

Canons 4 and 5 of the Code of Judicial Conduct govern this inquiry. Generally, both of these canons encourage judges to engage in activities that relate to improving the law, the legal system, the judicial branch, or the administration of justice. While engaging in such activities, however, judges must comply with other provisions of the Code and must specifically avoid conduct or words that cast reasonable doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially as a judge, demean the judicial office, or interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties. See Canons 4A and 5A, Fla. Code Jud. Conduct.

Canon 4D states, in part, that a judge may “serve as a member, officer, director, trustee or non-legal advisor of an organization or governmental agency, devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system, the judicial branch, or the administration of justice.” Canon 4(D), Fla. Code Jud. Conduct. However, 4D(1) prohibits such membership if it is likely that the organization will be engaged in proceedings that would ordinarily come before the judge, or be engaged frequently in adversary proceedings in the courts.

Canon 5C(2) provides that “[a] judge shall not accept appointment to a governmental committee or commission or other governmental position that is concerned with issues of fact or policy on matters other than the improvement of the law, the legal system, the judicial branch, or the administration of justice.” (Emphasis added.) This Committee has approved judges’ participation in extra-judicial activities in a number of opinions. See Fla. JEAC Op. 98-09 (participation in the establishment of a county Community Justice Coalition); Fla. JEAC Op. 04-05 (appointment from a local legislative body to its advisory Commission of the Status of Woman); Fla. JEAC Op. 04-12 (serving on Governmental Commission on Marriage and Family Support Initiatives); Fla. JEAC Op. 00-09 (approving service on the Board of Directors for the Collins Center for Public Policy); Fla. JEAC Op. 17-02 (judge approved to accept appointment to the Florida Impaired Driving Coalition, an advisory body to the Florida Department of Transportation); Fla. JEAC Op. 07-03 (approving appointment of the inquiring judge by the Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives to membership on the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission which was created the Florida Constitution). In Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinion 07-03 the Committee found the Commission’s purpose directed toward improving the law and its administration, that it was not part of the executive or legislative branches of government, but rather was an independent constitutional commission. As such, we found that there was nothing prohibiting the inquiring judge from accepting the appointment.

Similarly, we have not previously addressed an inquiry related to the ULC, it is also an independent and statutorily created Commission with a long history of dedication to improvement in the law and the legal system. Moreover, there appears little possibility that the organization would appear in matters coming before the requesting judge. However, the over-arching caution as to a judge’s conduct must remain in the forefront.

In conclusion, the Inquiring Judge may participate as a commissioner in the Uniform Law Commission so long as participation on the Commission does not cast reasonable doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially or interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties. However, the judge should periodically re-evaluate the status of the judge’s affiliation with the ULC to ensure that participation does not violate the Canons.

 

REFERENCES

Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canons 4, 4A, 4D, 4D(1), 5, 5A, 5C(2)

Fla. JEAC Ops. 98-09, 00-09, 04-05, 04-12, 07-03, 17-02

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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 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