FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2018-28 (Election)1
Date of Issue: October 29, 2018

ISSUE

May a judicial candidate accept a contribution from a registered Florida political committee in which the judicial candidate’s paid campaign consultant is an officer and into which the campaign consultant solicits contributions?

ANSWER: Yes, provided that the campaign consultant does not solicit or accept contributions for the political committee for the purpose of making contributions to the judicial candidate and that the political committee does not otherwise engage in electioneering communications or political advertising on behalf of the judicial candidate.

 

FACTS

The judicial candidate inquires whether it is permissible to accept a contribution from a registered Florida political committee in which the judicial candidate’s paid campaign consultant is an officer and into which the campaign consultant solicits contributions. The judicial candidate represents that the political committee raises its funds from attorneys, law firms, other political committees, businesses and individuals. The judicial candidate serves as the Deputy Treasurer to the campaign.

 

DISCUSSION

In JEAC Op. 2016-15, this committee concluded that “a judicial candidate may not coordinate the activities of his or her campaign with an electioneering communication organization.” In that opinion, the Committee also concluded that neither the judicial candidate nor the candidate’s committee of responsible persons may solicit contributions from an “electioneering communications organization” to be used to support the candidacy of the judicial candidate or oppose the candidacy of the judicial candidate’s opponent.

JEAC Op. 2016-15 was grounded on provisions of Canon 7A(1)(e) which provide that a judicial candidate “shall not: . . . solicit funds for, pay an assessment to or make a contribution to a political organization or candidate, or purchase tickets for political party dinners or other functions” and provisions of Canon 7C(1) which permit judicial candidates to “establish committees of responsible persons to secure and manage the expenditure of funds for the candidate’s campaign and to obtain public statements of support for his or her candidacy.” These same principles and limitations outlined in JEAC Op. 2016-15 are applicable to a judicial candidate’s interactions with a political committee.

However, the question presented herein involves the acceptance of a contribution by the campaign, not its solicitation or any other activity in support of the judicial candidate. As we opined in JEAC Op. 2012-17, a judicial candidate who is his or her own campaign treasurer may collect contributions from a post office box, record them, and deposit them in the campaign account, which are just ministerial rather than fund-raising acts.

The acceptance of a contribution by a campaign or its treasurer or deputy treasurer from a political committee is not, ipso facto, “coordination” within the scope of JEAC Op. 2016-15. Examples of coordination would include the campaign consultant soliciting or accepting contributions for the political committee with the purpose of making contributions to the judicial candidate. It would also include the political committee engaging in “electioneering communications” or “political advertising” on behalf of the judicial candidate. Additionally, the inquirer should not to accept any contributions that exceed the statutory limits on contributions.

 

REFERENCES

Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canons 7A(1)(e) and 7C(1)
Fla. JEAC Ops. 2016-15 and 2012-17

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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.

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 Matthew C. Lucas, 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.