FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2019-15
Date of Issue: April 12, 2019

ISSUES

1. Whether a judge may participate in a Habitat for Humanity fund-raiser by donating baked goods that will be auctioned off during the event.

ANSWER: Yes, judges may donate items to a fund-raiser as long nothing reveals that the item was donated by a judge.

2. Whether a judge may participate in a Habitat for Humanity fund-raising event by serving as an auctioneer of the donated baked goods who will “get on stage to entertain the attendees in some fashion to encourage bids.”

ANSWER: No.

FACTS

The Inquiring Judge has been invited to provide baked goods that will be auctioned off during a fund-raising event for Habitat for Humanity. The non-law-related charity also asked that the Inquiring Judge act as an auctioneer who will “get on stage to entertain the attendees in some fashion to encourage bids” for the judge’s donated baked goods. All proceeds go to Habitat for Humanity.

 

DISCUSSION

Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 5 controls this inquiry. In the Commentary to Canon 5, the Florida Supreme Court has recognized that “a judge should not become isolated from the community in which the judge lives.” Accordingly, Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 5C provides that a judge may serve as part of a charitable organization and may assist such organization in planning fund-raising, but shall not personally participate in solicitation of funds or other fund-raising activities. Fla. Code of Jud. Conduct, Canon 5C(3)(b)(i). However, Canon 4D(2)(b) does permit judges to engage in fund-raising activities at events related to law, the administration of justice, and the legal system if the funds raised will be used for law-related purposes as long as personal solicitation of funds is not involved.

Canon 5A permits judges to participate in civic charitable activities so long as they do not: 1) cast reasonable doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially as a judge; 2) demean the judicial office; or 3) interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties. Fla. Code of Jud. Conduct, Canon 5A. Further, a judge “shall not use or permit the use of the prestige of judicial office for fund-raising.” Fla. Code of Jud. Conduct, Canon 5C(3)(b)(iii).

Regarding Issue 1, although there may not be a specific JEAC opinion involving donating baked goods to be sold at a fund-raiser, there are instructive opinions. Judges may donate items to be sold during a non-law-related charity fund-raiser as long as it is not revealed that the item was donated by a judge. In Fla. JEAC Op. 07-04 the JEAC stated that even though no explicit identification was made by the charity, a judge’s donation would be prohibited because the well-known logo on custom knives made by the judge revealed the judge as the donor. In Fla. JEAC Op. 01-09 the JEAC concluded that a judge may donate items for a charitable auction as long as the judge is not disclosed as donor; however, the judge may not ethically donate a hosted dinner for twelve at the judge’s home.

As for Issue 2, a judge may participate in fund-raising for non-law-related charities subject to Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 5C(3). However, the judge’s participation must be unadvertised, subsidiary and is typically providing physical help prior to or during to the event. Commentary to Canon 5C(3)(b). Several JEAC opinions conclude that the Canons limit the functions judges may serve during non-law-related charitable fund-raising events. For instance, in Fla. JEAC Op. 11-14, the inquiring judge was asked by a charitable organization to be a celebrity “food server.” By using only elected officials as its wait staff, the charitable organization would have made the judge a featured participant, whose presence was requested to enhance the collection of contributions by the attendees of the event. The judge-waiter was asked to make personal fund-raising appeals during the non-law-related event. Consequently, this committee advised the inquiring judge not to participate as a celebrity waiter. On the other hand, simply working in concession stands during children’s sporting events was found to be permissible in JEAC Op. 05-07. See Fla. JEAC Op. 00-31 (judge may not serve as a chairperson for fund-raising kickoff for charitable organization); Fla. JEAC Op. 98-32 (judge may not announce winning tickets or describe donated items won at charity fashion fund-raiser).

The Supreme Court Commentary to Canon 5 notes that mere attendance at a fund-raising event is permissible if otherwise consistent with the Code. In this inquiry however, a judge getting on a stage at a public non-law-related charitable fund-raiser, serving as an auctioneer, and encouraging attendees to purchase donated baked goods goes far beyond mere attendance. The judge would become a feature of the event and actively fund-raising for Habitat for Humanity in violation of Canon 5C(3). The JEAC concludes that the Inquiring Judge must decline participating as an auctioneer or entertainer at the fund-raiser.

 

REFERENCES

Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canons 4D(2)(b), 5, 5A, 5C, 5C(3), 5C(3)(b), 5C(3)(b)(i), (iii).
Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Commentary to Canon 5 and 5C(3)(b).
Fla. JEAC Ops. 11-14, 07-04, 05-07, 01-09, 00-31,98-32.

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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