August 6, 1984

Opinion No. 84/18

Your inquiry states that you are a candidate for county judge and that your opponent, the incumbent, has engaged in various practices, such as requiring a physical arrest of all persons charged, even first-time offenders, accused of minor offenses, and of threatening defendants with maximum sentences if they proceed to trial. You ask whether, under Canon 7B(1)(c) you may:

(1) openly disagree with these practices;

(2) state that these practices are unfair;

(3) state that, if elected, you would look closely at each case before issuing a capias
in a misdemeanor offense;

(4) state that you would generally be in favor of using the summons power of the court to bring misdemeanor defendants to bar;

(5) state that you would not threaten defendants for exercising their right to trial.

The committee response is, generally, that you may in a contested judicial election criticize your political opponent and his fitness for office and make general statements concerning what you feel would be faithful and impartial performance of your duties.

Responding specifically to the five questions posed, questions one and two, relating to the conduct of your political opponent, are matters appropriate for fair comment and criticism in a campaign, but subject to the requirements of Canon 7B that you "maintain the dignity appropriate to judicial office."

Responding to questions three, four, and five, Canon 7B(1)(c) provides that you should "not make pledges of make promises of conduct in office other than the faithful and impartial performance of the duties of the office," and that you may not announce your views "on disputed legal or political issues." The questions as phrased in your inquiry are general statements which would not be prohibited by the Canon since it should be self-evident that a judge should "look closely at a case" before issuing a capias and that a judge would "not threaten defendants for exercising their right to trial." So long as you do not pledge to act invariably in a particular way, the committee responds affirmatively on question four as well.

In sum, the majority of the committee gives an affirmative answer to all five questions. One member responds that he hesitates to recommend you criticize you opponent and would prefer you take a non-argumentative, educational approach in your campaign, conveying your attitude concerning judicial discretion with reference to each of the subjects.

The Committee wishes to thank you for your inquiry and hopes this response has been of assistance to you.

Sincerely,

Anne C. Booth, Chairman
Committee on Standards of Conduct Governing Judges

cc: All Committee Members

All reference to the inquiring judge is deleted from the copies sent to the following individuals.

Mr. Sid White, Clerk of the Supreme Court of Florida
Linda Yates, Managing Editor, The Florida Bar Journal
Mark Hulsey, Esq., Chairman, Judicial Qualifications Commission.
Hon. Howard T. Markey, Chairman, Ethics Advisory Panel of the Judicial Conference of the United States .
Jeffrey M. Shaman, Esquire, Director, Center for Judicial Conduct Organizations
Ms. Jean Underhill, Librarian, Broward County Law Library
Mr. Robert Wallace, Librarian, Dade County Law Library
Mr. Brian Polley, Librarian, Supreme Court of Florida

Participating members: Judges Booth, Carlisle, Green, Grube, Hewitt,Tedder, Turner, and Attorney Samuel J. Powers, Jr.