FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2018-14 (Election)1
Date of Issue: June 8, 2018

ISSUE

May an administrative law judge who is a candidate for judicial office post pictures to a campaign website and on social media which show the candidate presiding from the bench and wearing a judicial robe while participating as a volunteer judge in a middle school mock trial competition.

ANSWER: No, because such photo may mislead the public into believing that the candidate is an Article V judge. However, if the candidate wears a robe while performing the duties as an administrative law judge, the candidate may use a photo wearing the robe. However, there must be an adequate explanation describing the photo and that the candidate is not a County or Circuit judge.

 

FACTS

The inquiring candidate currently serves as an administrative law judge. The candidate served as a volunteer judge for a local middle school mock trial competition which was held in a courthouse. During the competition, the candidate presided from the bench and wore the judicial robe the candidate wears while presiding as an administrative law judge. The candidate would like to post pictures showing the candidate interacting with the students from the bench while wearing the judicial robe to the candidate’s social media and web campaign. The pictures would include a message about judging the mock trial competition and congratulating the students on their performance.

  
DISCUSSION

Florida Code of Judicial Conduct, Canon 7(A)(3)(e)(ii) provides that a candidate for judicial office shall not “knowingly misrepresent the identity, qualifications, present position, or other fact concerning the candidate.”  In Opinion 00-23, this subcommittee stated that a candidate presenting information regarding their identity, qualification or present position in a judicial campaign advertisement

must not present the information out of context and must give the whole picture. Taking these matters out of context or failing to provide the public with the whole picture, either through inclusion or omission, can result in a violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct. The public relies on the information provided by candidates’ advertisements. Half-truths, innuendo, and equivocations run afoul of the Code of Judicial Conduct and are unacceptable in judicial campaign advertisements.

Here, the candidate seeks to post pictures showing the candidate on the bench and wearing a judicial robe at the school’s mock trial competition. In Opinion 04-20, this subcommittee stated that a candidate who had served as a voluntary judge in a diversion program known as teen court could include such volunteer service in campaign literature as long as the use of the term “judge” was qualified and clearly indicated “that the service was voluntary community service and not service as a judicial officer.”  Here, however, the candidate seeks to publish photos wearing a robe. In Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinion 06-16, the Committee opined that, where the privilege of wearing a robe was extended to magistrates and hearing officers in the inquirer’s circuit, a candidate could publicize photos of the candidate wearing a robe. The photo was going to be reproduced from media sources that had previously taken the photos, while the candidate was performing their duties and where not staged. This is not the case here. Therefore, no photos of the inquirer wearing robes may be used, unless the inquirer actually wears robes during the administrative law judge hearings. Furthermore, the inquirer must take caution to not give the false impression that the candidate is an Article V judge. The inquirer should refer to the Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinions: 04-20; 08-15; and 06-16 for the expressed requirement of including clear explanation that of the circumstances shown in the photo and clearly stating that the candidate is not a judge and “that the photo is not intended to convey the impression the candidate has actual service as a judge.” Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinion 06-16.

Accordingly, while the message the candidate seeks to attach to the pictures may not be inappropriate under Canon 7(A)(3)(e)(ii), we caution that the candidate must assure that the pictures are posted to the candidate’s social media and web campaign in a way that comply with Canon 7 and do not imply or mislead the public into believing that the candidate has judicial experience or served as a judicial officer in either county or circuit court.

 

REFERENCES

Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 7(A)(3)(e)(ii)
Fla. JEAC Ops. 06-16, 08-15, 04-20, 00-23

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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

 

 

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.