FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2019-11
Date of Issue: April 2, 2019

ISSUES

May a judge accept an award as an “Outstanding Alumni” from a college alumni foundation at a ceremony where the primary purpose is fundraising for the foundation?

ANSWER: No.

FACTS

A judge has been asked to accept an “Outstanding Alumni” award in the field of law from a foundation associated with the college from which the judge received an undergraduate degree. The website for the foundation includes the following statements:

[The foundation] raises essential private funds for student scholarships, STEM education, arts and culture, entrepreneurship, workforce training, and other programs that elevate our . . . community.

and

The event [the Alumni Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony] is the largest [foundation] fundraiser of the year, benefitting student scholarships for the next generation of leaders.

 

DISCUSSION

From the foundation’s own description, it is clear that the primary function of  the event about which the judge inquires is fundraising. The commentary to Canon 5A specifically encourages judges to participate in extrajudicial community activities. However, a judge must be circumspect when considering which activities are appropriate. See Canon 5A(6). The Florida Code of Judicial Conduct, in Canon 5C(3)(b)(iii), states that a judge [serving in an educational, religious, charitable, fraternal, sororal or civic organization] as an officer, director, trustee or non-legal advisor, or as a member or otherwise shall not use or permit the use of the prestige of judicial office for fund-raising or membership solicitation. The commentary to Canon 5C(3)(b) states even more specifically that:

. . . Mere attendance at an event, whether or not the event serves a fund-raising purpose, does not constitute a violation of Canon 5C(3)(b) . . . However, a judge may not be a speaker, guest of honor, or otherwise be featured at an organization’s fundraising event, unless the event concerns the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice as authorized by Canon 4D(2)(b) (Emphasis added)

The announcement for the Alumni Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony explicitly mentions fund-raising as one of its primary purposes. It is clear that the judge, as one of the recipients of the Outstanding Alumni awards, would be considered a guest of honor. Similar issues have been considered in Fla. JEAC Op. 99-15, where it was determined that a judge could not speak at an event very similar to the one described by the enquiring judge, and in Fla. JEAC Op. 78-09, wherein the use of the judge’s name and photograph for alumni association membership and fund-raising efforts was found to be prohibited.

Even where a judge has gone to considerable lengths to prohibit the use of the judge’s name or office in any way for fundraising at an event, as addressed in Fla. JEAC Op. 15-02, the judge is still prohibited by Canon 5C(3)(b) from attending, as a guest of honor, a fund-raising event that does not primarily concern the law, legal system, or administration of justice. The inquiring judge is referred to JEAC Op. 11-12 which contains a summary of eight JEAC opinions that concluded that the judges’ anticipated participation in non-law-related fundraising was prohibited.

In summary, while a judge is not prohibited from membership or even service as an officer in an alumni association, see Fla. JEAC Op. 09-04, and may attend a fund-raising event for such an organization, a judge is prohibited from attending such a fund-raising event of a college alumni association if the judge could be deemed a guest of honor.

 

REFERENCES

Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canons 4D(2)(b), 5A, 5A(6), 5C(3)(b)(iii).
Fla. JEAC Ops., 15-12, 11-12, 09-04, 99-15, 78-09.

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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 Jeffrey T. Kuntz, 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