FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2018-20 (Election)1
Date of Issue: August 7, 2018

ISSUE

May a judicial candidate continue to retain the services of a campaign management firm, if one of the owners or principals of the firm, who will not manage the campaign of the judicial candidate, also holds an executive position in a partisan organization, in an individual capacity?

ANSWER: Yes, provided the judicial candidate takes all steps necessary to ensure the campaign management firm does not utilize the resources, facilities, or materials of any partisan political organization while working on behalf of the judicial candidate.

 

FACTS

A judicial candidate has learned that the campaign management company retained by the campaign has two owners or principals. One of the owners or principals holds an executive position in a partisan organization in an individual capacity. The judicial candidate inquires whether the campaign can continue to retain the campaign management firm under these circumstances.

  
DISCUSSION

Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 7 and Section 105.071, Florida Statutes, unequivocally prohibit judicial candidates and sitting judges (whether running or not) from becoming involved in partisan politics. A candidate for judicial office may not take actions which would suggest that the candidate is endorsed by a partisan political party or is running on the same slate as another candidate. In re Kay, 508 So. 2d 329 (Fla. 1987).

In JEAC Op. 08-16, Question 1, this Committee opined that a candidate for election to judicial office could not hire a partisan political candidate running for a different office to be the judicial candidate's campaign manager/consultant. The Committee believes that employing a partisan political candidate as a judicial candidate's campaign manager/consultant would improperly give the appearance that the judicial candidate and the partisan political candidate were "running on the same slate" and otherwise endorsing the other's candidacy. In that same opinion, in Question 2, this Committee opined a candidate for election to judicial office could not hire the executive officer of a partisan political committee to be the judicial candidate's campaign manager/consultant.

Here the judicial candidate retained the services of a campaign management firm, not knowing that one of the owners or principals of the firm, who will not manage the campaign of the judicial candidate, holds an executive position in a partisan organization, in an individual capacity. In the world of judicial campaigning, judicial candidates retain campaign management firms to manage their campaigns. Campaign management firms and consultants often times advise several different candidates for different offices during the same election cycle. Given these realities, the guiding principle for any judicial candidate should be that there be no involvement in partisan politics or by a partisan organization in the judicial campaign.

In the circumstances presented, the judicial candidate may continue to employ the campaign management firm provided the judicial candidate takes all steps necessary to ensure that the campaign management firm does not utilize the resources, facilities, or materials of the partisan political organization while working on behalf of the judicial candidate.

 

REFERENCES

§ 105.071, Fla. Stat.
In re Kay, 508 So. 2d 329 (Fla. 1987)
Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 7
Fla. JEAC Op. 08-16

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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 James A. Edwards, Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Chair, Fifth District Court of Appeal, 300 South Beach Street, Daytona Beach, FL 32114.

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

Members:
Judge Michael 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)
Supreme Court Justice Liaison
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.