FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2020-18
Date of Issue: July 13, 2020

ISSUE

May a judge or group of judges sign a proposed resolution urging that all judges remain vigilant in their continued efforts to keep racial bias out of the justice system?  May the group of judges submit the resolution to the chief judge of their circuit and to the Florida Supreme Court for consideration?

ANSWER: Yes, to both questions.

FACTS

A group of judges has been meeting together recently and participating in a “dialogue on race.” As a result of their dialogue, the members have prepared and would like to sign a document referred to as a resolution on race and equal justice.

The judges intend to present the resolution to the chief judge of their circuit and ask him or her consider it, and are also contemplating submitting it to the Florida Supreme Court for consideration.

 

DISCUSSION

At least three of the canons of the Code of Judicial Conduct appear to be implicated, at least indirectly, in the consideration of the judge’s question. Canon 2A requires that:

A judge shall respect and comply with the law and shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.

Judges are encouraged by Canon 4 of the Code of Judicial Conduct to participate in activities concerning the administration of justice, subject to the requirements of the Code. The reason for such activities is based on the reasoning for the adoption of the Code, as stated in the Commentary to Canon 1:

Deference to the judgments and rulings of courts depends upon public confidence in the integrity and independence of judges. The integrity and independence of judges depend in turn upon their acting without fear or favor.

While some questions previously submitted to the committee address the propriety of becoming involved in activities sponsored or endorsed by outside groups or organizations, over which the judge might not have control, and which might seek to use the judge’s position or prestige to further their goals, the current inquiry indicates that the activity proposed is to occur entirely within the judiciary, avoiding the concerns common to activities involving other parties.

The language of the proposed resolution urges that all judges remain vigilant in their efforts to ensure that our justice system operates without racial bias within our justice system expresses a valid concern of both judges and litigants and seeks to remind each of us to be aware of the need to conduct ourselves in a manner that would encourage confidence on the part of all persons in the fairness of the judicial system. The Committee finds that it is acceptable to voice a commitment or sign a resolution that says all judges should treat all litigants fairly and equally without regard to race, creed, color, national origin, sexual preference, gender, etc. etc. and take steps to ensure that this goal of equality is achieved. However, judges should not voice a commitment or sign a resolution that may lead to any litigants having any justification for questioning a judge’s impartiality.

 

REFERENCES

Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canons 1, 2A, 4

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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.

Mark Herron, Esquire, Chair of the Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, Messer Caparello, P.A., Post Office Box 1701, Tallahassee, FL 32302 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)
Justice Charles T. Canady, Justice Liaison
John A Tomasino, Supreme Court Clerk
All Committee Members
Alexander J. Williams, General Counsel of the JQC
Melissa Hamilton, Staff Counsel