October 9, 1984
Opinion No. 84/20
You have requested a ruling as to whether a judge may contribute financially to "It Makes Cents," an organization to promote the passage of the local sales tax levy to finance the new county justice facility. You further state that the matter is a pressing one since the question will be put on the November ballot, and the County Commission has asked judges to make contributions to the "It Makes Cents" organization. Of eight committee members responding, seven advise that you may not make financial contributions to the organization in question because it is a political organization. Canon 7A(1)(c) prohibits a judge from making a contribution to a political organization.
The determination that the organization in question is a political one is made primarily from the description in the inquiry of its activities, to-wit: "to promote the passage of the local sales tax levy to finance the new justice facility." Since the prohibition of Canon 7A(1)(c) is clear, the majority of the Committee has voted this contribution should not be made to the organization in question.
The Committee recognizes, however, that, but for the specific prohibition and the involvement of a political organization, Canon 4C, which allows a judge to involve himself in organizations "devoted to the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice," including assisting such an organization in raising funds so long as the judge does "not personally participate in public fund raising activities," would allow a judge to make a financial contribution to a non-political fund or activity. We also have authority for judges assisting in matters pertaining to the legal system and the administration of justice, and specifically supporting the construction of a courthouse. In Opinion No. 78/14, a judge asked if he could endorse in the media and make speeches with regard to a bond issue which involved six projects, including a satellite courthouse and a correctional facility. This Committee responded that the judge could endorse and support the specific projects relating to the legal system. However, in the same inquiry, the Committee divided on the nature of the bond advisory or steering committee on which the judge had been asked to serve and whether that was a "political committee."
We also note that the inquiry here does not involve a judge making speeches explaining the need for a new courthouse, advocating its construction, or making a direct personal contribution to the construction. These activities are not prohibited by the Canons or any of our opinions. The difficulty here is with any contribution being made by judges to a political organization.
One member of the Committee is of the view that it makes no difference whether judges contribute directly or through an organization, and, since it would be proper for the judge to endorse personally the construction of a new courthouse because it is a project relating to the judicial system, that overriding concern should allow a contribution to an organization devoted to its passage so long as it is not a partisan political organization. The rest of the Committee, however, voted as previously indicated against the contribution and further point out the problems of using contributions by judges as a publicity device to get public support for the proposed tax, thereby involving a judge in public fund raising activities contrary to Canons 4C and 5B(2). Finally, the majority notes that, if the validity of the tax were challenged, the judge's active participation in the passage of the tax could serve to require disqualification.
The Committee wishes to thank you for your inquiry and hopes this response has been of assistance to you.
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, Dell, Green, Grube, Hewitt, Letts, and Attorney Samuel J. Powers, Jr.