FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2019-21
Date of Issue: July 23, 2019

ISSUE

Whether a judge may contribute to a local historical society that is soliciting funds to commission a portrait of a former mayor.

ANSWER: Yes.

FACTS

The inquiring judge has received a solicitation from a local historical society for the limited purpose of commissioning a portrait of a former mayor. The subject of this portrait, the judge further informs us, remains active in local government. The portrait may ultimately be displayed in the rotunda of a courthouse. The inquiring judge wishes to make a financial contribution to this fundraising effort, but first wishes to know whether such a contribution would be prohibited by the Code of Judicial Conduct.

 

DISCUSSION

Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 5A allows judges to participate in "extra-judicial activities," such as donating to civic charities, as long as the activities do not: (1) cast reasonable doubt on the judge's capacity to act impartially as a judge; (2) undermine the judge's independence, integrity, or impartiality; (3) demean the judicial office; (4) interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties; (5) lead to frequent disqualification of the judge; or (6) appear to a reasonable person to be coercive.

The "activity" in this case is limited; the judge merely wishes to make a private financial contribution to a local historical society, presumably without public recognition. In Fla. JEAC Op. 14-24, we opined that a judge could contribute leftover judicial campaign funds to a not-for-profit organization selected by the judge insofar as such an act did not impermissibly lend the prestige of the judicial office to that organization. "Rather, if done in a private manner without attendant publicity, this manifestation of support for the organization is comparable to the judge's service on the board or engaging in other activities supportive of the organization which are expressly permitted by the Canons and Commentary." Id.; see also Fla. JEAC Op. 08-07 (answering in the affirmative that an inquiring judge could make an anonymous private contribution to defray the campaign costs of a university student government candidate's campaign). We reach the same conclusion here; the inquiring judge's personal, private donation to an historical society does not appear to violate Canon 5.

Nor do we view this contemplated donation, under the facts reported to us, as "a contribution to a political organization or candidate" that would be prohibited under Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 7A(1)(e). First and foremost, the donation is to a local historical society, not a political campaign or committee. And contributing money towards a formal portrait of a local official for display in a public space does not strike us as indirect financial support for that official. That is, it does not appear to us that by making this contribution the inquiring judge would "become entangled in partisan political activities or any race for a political or public office," which, we have observed, is the "letter and spirit of Canon 7." See Fla. JEAC Op. 08-07.

Accordingly, we answer the judge's inquiry in the affirmative.

 

REFERENCES

Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canons 5A, 7A(1)(e).
Fla. JEAC Ops. 14-24, 08-07.

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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, First Circuit M.C. Blanchard Judicial Building, 190 Governmental Center, 6th Floor, Pensacola, FL 32502 or JEAC@flcourts.org.

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)
Chief Justice Charles T. Canady, Justice Liaison
John A Tomasino, Clerk of Supreme Court
All Committee Members
General Counsel of the Judicial Qualifications Committee
Melissa Hamilton, Staff Counsel