March 16, 1981
This is in response to your inquiry of February 9th, 1981. You asked two questions. you are a member of a legislatively created Historical Commission whose purpose is to collect and procure data for the preservation of historical information on your county. The Commission now proposes to construct a library to be funded by donations from the community. Your first question is whether you may directly solicit donation for this purpose. Your second question is whether your name may appear as a member of the Commission on stationery used by other members of the Commission to solicit donations.
As to your first question, of the eight members who responded all were unanimous that you may not directly solicit contributions. Six of the members felt that it was not a violation of the Canons of Ethics if your name appeared on Commission stationery, which might be used by other members of the Commission to solicit funds. Two of our members dissent.
Inasmuch as the majority opinion is something of a break with tradition, I feel constrained to excerpt portions of the rationale of the majority and the dissent.
First the dissent.
"Judges should remain free of the solicitation arena. This is a prophylactic rule to prevent a judge from being inveigled by some close friend or leading light of some charity and creating the resulting appearance of impropriety...This Committee should recognize that ...judges, on a broad basis, need such an opinion which they can utilize politely and in good taste to decline these requests which are frequently made."
The majority members agreed:
"The purpose of the Canon prohibiting the judge from soliciting funds is to prevent litigants and attorneys from feeling they are being pressured, i.e. that they are going to lose unless they contribute...People will not contribute to the Historical Commission just because some ...judge has his name on the letterhead. In fact, it is doubtful that (the judge) will even know whether they contributed.
The Canon prohibiting lending the prestige of the office should not be construed to prohibit a judge from holding office in civic, charitable, etc. organizations. Whether his name appears on the letterhead or not, people know that a judge is an officer in the organization. As a rule, organizations seek as office holders persons who have accomplished something in their lives. They tend to favor people in the professions, successful businessmen, elected officials...I think in this day and age everyone know these people were selected because they can contribute something to the organization, and not for the luster which radiates from their position."
We previously held that a judge could hold office in:
Opinion 76-21- Board of Director of a family service bureau, Opinion 74-16 - Board of Directors of the American Red Cross, Opinion 74-14 - Board of Directors of the Heart Association, Opinion 75-12 - Board of Directors of Anti Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, Opinion 75-27 - Council on Aging and Opinion 77-6 - Community College foundation.
It is inevitable that members of the public are aware of the judges' activity in these organizations. To say that a judge may hold office in these organizations, but must remain incognito, is contradictory and unworkable. It is possible to construe the prohibition against lending the prestige of the office so far as to make a judge a recluse.
To summarize, the Committee was unanimous in holding you could not engage in direct solicitations, but split 6-2 in favor of permitting you to allow your name to be used on stationery, which, incidently, was used by other members of the Commission to solicit funds.
James T. Carlisle, Chairman
Committee on Standards of Conduct Governing Judges
cc: All Committee Members
Sid White, Clerk of the Supreme Court
Mr. William C. Clark, Chairman, Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission
Mrs. Linda H. Yates, Managing Editor, Florida Bar Journal
Hon Howard T. Markey, Chairman, Ethics Advisory Panel Judicial Conference of the U.S.
All references to the inquiring judge deleted