FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2019-20
Date of Issue: July 9, 2019

ISSUES

Whether a judge may attend a fund-raising event for a nonprofit civic organization to present an award to a friend being recognized as a community leader.

ANSWER: No.

FACTS

The inquiring Judge has been invited to present an award at the reception of a nonprofit civic organization recognizing the Judge’s friend as a community leader. While the event is not primarily a “fund-raiser” funds will nevertheless be solicited to support the organization.

 

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 or civic 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).

As has been noted by this committee, the commentary to Canon 5C(3)(b) notes 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). It is also generally permissible for a judge to pass a collection plate at a place of worship or for a judge to serve as an usher or food server or preparer, or to perform similar subsidiary and unadvertised functions at fund-raising events sponsored by educational, religious, charitable, fraternal, or civic organizations, so long as they do not entail direct or personal solicitation. However, a judge may not be a speaker, guest of honor, or otherwise be featured at an organization’s fund-raising event, unless the event concerns the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice as authorized by Canon 4D(2)(b). (Emphasis added)

While the Judge notes that there will be no personal solicitation of funds, presenting an award at an event that also serves as a fund-raiser would appear to constitute more than mere attendance. While such a role may not rise to the level of being a “guest of honor,” it well could be said that it does meet the definition of being a “speaker” or at least that the judge would “otherwise be featured” at the event. Similar tasks at fund-raising related events have been determined as inconsistent with the Canons in previous opinions. Fla. JEAC Op. 11-14, (inquiring judge may not appear at a charitable organization to be a celebrity “food server”); 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); Fla. JEAC Op. 19-11 (judge may not accept alumni award at event that also served as a fund-raiser); Fla. JEAC Op. 10-33 (judge may not accept Government Leader award at ceremony not advertised as fund-raiser but where the expenses were paid by ticket sales and advertising space); Fla. JEAC Op. 15-02 (judge may not appear at luncheon to induct judge into county Hall of Fame where program ads sold).

For this reason, and no matter how worthy the cause or mission of the organization, the committee must respond to the inquiry in the negative because of the fund-raising component of the event and the judge’s particular role.

 

REFERENCES

Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canons 4D(2)(b), 5, 5A, 5C, 5C(3), 5C(3)(b), 5C(3)(b)(i), (iii), Commentary to Canon 5 and 5C(3)(b). 
Fla. JEAC Ops. 19-11, 15-02, 11-1410-33, 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 W. Joel Boles, Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Chair, M.C. Blanchard Judicial Building, 190 Governmental Center, Pensacola, FL 32502.

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