FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2018-31
Date of Issue: December 6, 2018

ISSUES

1. May a judge serve as a member of a committee tasked with interviewing applicants who seek admission to the judge’s alma mater?

ANSWER: Yes.

2. May the judge provide his impression of the applicant?

ANSWER: Yes.

3. May the judge recommend the student for admission?

ANSWER: Yes, as long as the judge’s title is not mentioned in or as a part of the recommendation.

 

FACTS

The inquiring judge is a graduate of a prestigious university. The judge has been asked to conduct interviews of high school seniors who are applying for admission to the university. Upon completion of the interview process, the judge will be asked to complete an interview form detailing the judge’s thoughts on how the interview went, the judge’s impression of the student, and whether the judge would recommend the student for admission to the university.

 

DISCUSSION

The Florida Code of Judicial Conduct, Canon 5B provides: “A judge is encouraged to speak, write, lecture, teach and participate in other extrajudicial activities concerning non-legal subjects, subject to the requirements of this Code.” The Commentary to Canon 5A recognizes that “[c]omplete separation of a judge from extra-judicial activities is neither possible nor wise; a judge should not become isolated from the community in which the judge lives. For that reason, judges are encouraged to participate in extrajudicial community activities.”

Canon 2B, prohibits a judge from using the “prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or others.” Canon 2B also prohibits judges from voluntarily serving as a character witness. The commentary to Canon 2B states, in pertinent part, “a judge may, based on the judge’s personal knowledge, serve as a reference or provide a letter of recommendation. Consistent with Canon 2B, we have counseled that a judge may write letters of recommendation based upon the judge’s personal knowledge of the party making that request. See e.g., Fla. JEAC Op. 07-06 (a judge may write a letter of recommendation for a former staff attorney who has applied for a law school fellowship because the judge worked with and could base the recommendation on personal knowledge). There is a question as to what degree of personal interaction or personal knowledge is necessary before a judge’s relationship with an applicant is personal enough to write a recommendation; a letter not sought primarily for the prestige of office? The U.S. Advisory Committee has opined that “‘whenever the relationship between the judge and the person seeking the recommendation is such that the judge is in no better position than many others would be to evaluate that person,’ the recommendation was probably requested because of the prestige of the judicial office, and the judge should not grant the request.” Cynthia Gray, Recommendations by Judges: What Are the Limits?, 79 Judicature 310, 311 (1996) (quoting U.S. Advisory Opinion 73 (1983)).

Absent from the inquiry is whether the judge has been requested to participate in the interviews because the judge is an alumnus, a judge or because the judge is an alumnus who is a judge. If the judge’s title need not and will not adorn the judge’s report of the interview or the recommendation that will accompany the report, there is no impediment whatsoever to the judge offering an impression of the applicant, the interview and advising on whether the applicant is worthy of admission. However, if the judge’s title will be included in the interview report we suggest that the judge not make any recommendation regarding admission to the university. We do not believe that a single interview of whatever length is adequate to serve as the “personal knowledge” contemplated by the canons and necessary to offer any type of recommendation by a member of the judiciary.

 

REFERENCES

Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canons 2B, 5B and commentary to Canons 2B, 5A.
Fla. JEAC Op. 07-06 
U.S. Advisory Opinion 73 (1983).
Cynthia Gray, Recommendations by Judges: What Are the Limits? 79 Judicature 310 (1996).

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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 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