FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2018-23
Date of Issue: Septmeber 27, 2018

ISSUES

1. Whether a judge may permit court cases to be filmed and televised on a weekly basis.

ANSWER: This is a matter of judicial administration, rather than judicial ethics.

2. Whether a judge may research, write, and appear in televised public service announcements which discuss issues surrounding family violence.

ANSWER: Yes.

3. Whether a judge may be compensated for appearing in televised public service announcements.

ANSWER: Yes.

 

FACTS

The inquiring judge serves in a domestic violence division and asks whether the judge may allow the weekly televising of court proceedings in that division. In addition, the judge wants to research, write, and appear in televised public service announcements which explain the different forms of restraining orders available in Florida, the court procedures for obtaining restraining orders, inform the public about government sponsored resources for family violence issues, educate the public about the effects of exposure to family violence, and educate the public about evidentiary requirements for the introduction of common types of evidence. Finally, the judge asks whether the judge may receive compensation for creating and appearing in the public service announcements.

 

DISCUSSION

The first question presents matter of judicial administration, rather than judicial ethics. We note that Florida Rule of Judicial Administration 2.450 expressly provides for and governs televised coverage of public judicial proceedings. Because this Committee’s authority is limited to providing advice regarding judicial ethics, we can only say that none of the Canons in Florida’s Code of Judicial Conduct address this topic directly.

This Committee has previously addressed the subject of judges appearing in public service announcements (“PSA”). In Fla. JEAC Op. 11-04, we wrote extensively about the propriety of judges appearing in PSAs. We explained that the Canons do not prohibit judges from educating the public on issues concerning the judicial system. Indeed, Canon 4B encourages judges to engage in educating the public on topics concerning the law, the legal system, the administration of justice, and the role of the judiciary as an independent branch of government.

[T]he committee has allowed judges to participate in panel discussions at seminars sponsored by a private organization, so long as the judge’s participation was educational in nature. Fla. JEAC Op. 07-09. Likewise, the committee has consistently held that a judge does not violate the Code by lecturing or writing articles on the law or law related areas. In Fla. JEAC Op. 06-30, the Committee found no impropriety in the conduct of the judge addressing community groups regarding the dangers of on-line predators. Also, this Committee’s opinions in Fla. JEAC Ops. 04-27; 00-05; 99-14; 95-37; 82-05; 78-12; and 76-17 have approved judges writing articles on a variety of topics. In Fla. JEAC Op. 07-21, for example, this committee allowed a judge to write an informative article about the divorce process, so long as the article was educational in nature and did not imply the judge’s endorsement of any products, persons, services or materials. Also, in Fla. JEAC Op. 82-05, this committee approved a judge’s private publishing of a book, the purpose of which was to teach parents to teach their children the consequences of crime.

Fla. JEAC Op. 11-04. We concluded that “the judge’s proposed appearance in the public service announcement is not prohibited.”  Id. Likewise, the inquiring judge’s proposed appearance here is not prohibited because the topics the inquiring judge intends to address all concern educating the public about how the judicial system functions. However, as we noted in 11-04, “the Inquiring Judge is cautioned to carefully examine all the provisions of the Code to ensure that the content of the comments are not otherwise prohibited.” Id.

Finally, the inquiring judge asks if the judge may accept compensation for creating and appearing in the PSAs. This Committee has on two occasions addressed judges receiving compensation for educational activities other than teaching at educational institutions. See generally Fla. JEAC Op. 05-11.

In Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinion 07-09, we advised that a judge could participate in a panel discussion as part of a continuing legal education seminar sponsored by a private organization in exchange for an honorarium within the strictures of Canon 6.

A judge may receive compensation and reimbursement of expenses for the quasi-judicial and extrajudicial activities permitted by this Code, if the source of such payments does not give the appearance of influencing the judge in the performance of judicial duties or otherwise give the appearance of impropriety, subject to the following restrictions:

(1) Compensation. Compensation shall not exceed a reasonable amount nor shall it exceed what a person who is not a judge would receive for the same activity.

(2) Expense Reimbursement. Expense reimbursement shall be limited to the actual cost of travel, food, and lodging reasonably incurred by the judge and, where appropriate to the occasion, to the judge’s spouse. Any payment in excess of such an amount is compensation.

Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 6A.

In Fla. JEAC Op. 07-21, we opined that a judge could receive compensation for writing an informative article about the divorce process to be published on a for-profit internet company’s divorce information website. The cautions we provided in 07-21 are equally applicable to the inquiry before us here.

Further, the Committee has found a judge’s commercial writing is permitted generally. See Fla. JEAC Ops. 76-17 (judge authored procedural manual for publication and sale); 78-12 (judge co-authored with a lawyer procedural manual to be sold by commercial publisher with compensation to the authors); 82-05 (judge privately published book to teach parents to teach their children the consequences of crime). The fact that the proposed publication would be digital rather than ink is of no material consequence.

We caution the Inquiring Judge, however, to be careful not to comment on pending cases, not to answer hypothetical questions in a way that appears to commit to a particular position, and not to make any other remarks that could lead to the Judge’s disqualification, or be construed as an indication as to how the Judge would rule in a particular case. See Fla. JEAC Ops. 05-11; 04-27; 00-02; 99-14.

Thus, the Inquiring Judge may write an informative article about the divorce process to be published on the internet company’s divorce information website, so long as the judge’s article is educational in nature and does not imply the judge’s endorsement of any products, persons, services, or materials. The judge may receive compensation for the article, subject to the guidelines set forth in Canon 6.

Therefore, so long as the judge’s work on the PSAs does not interfere with the judge’s judicial duties and any compensation received by the inquiring judge is reported in accordance with Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 6B, the judge may receive reasonable compensation in connection with the PSAs. See Fla. JEAC Op. 81-3.

 

REFERENCES

Fla. R. Jud. Admin. 2.450
Fla. Code Jud. Conduct Canons 4B, 6A & B
Fla. JEAC Ops. 11-04, 07-21, 07-09, 06-30, 05-11, 04-27, 00-05, 00-02, 99-14,
95-37, 82-05, 81-3, 78-12, 76-17

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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.

Participating 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 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