November 21, 1985
Opinion No. 85/16
Canons 2, 3C, 5, and 6
Your inquiry of September 26, 1985, has been referred to me because Judge Green, our chairman, has recused himself and I am vice chairman of the committee.
You report that you have co-owned a building since 1976 with an attorney who has recently been convicted of the crime of conspiring to bribe a judge. That judge (not of course yourself) was likewise convicted. You further report that you bought this office building when you were still practicing law and that you and your co-owner each had your separate offices therein. You never associated together as law partners. Finally you report that, though your co-owner manages the building, and you divide the rents, you feel the relationship is "very awkward" and that you are attempting to sell the property to him, or others, but you have not so far received any reasonable offers.
All participating members of our committee express sympathy for your position. However, a majority of them feel it is not our province to pass judgment on whether you have violated the canons. That is a Judicial Qualification Commission exclusive.
On the other hand, we are unanimous that the predicament in which you find yourself is not of your making. You state that you refuse to allow your co-owner to handle matters before you. All are agreed that you are correct in so doing, but some query the exact extent of your forbearance. A majority of the committee feels you should issue a written blanket order of recusal (with a copy to your Chief Judge and Court Administrator) on all cases involving your co-owner, either as a litigant or an attorney, so that you would not sit on any such cases even where a substitution of counsel has been effected. Your co-owner should receive a copy though it would appear possible that disbarment may alleviate some of the problem.
All agree that you should continue your best good faith efforts to end this co-ownership, as soon as possible, but a majority feels it would be unfair to require you to get rid of the property at a distressed price. For that reason, although three members of the commission suggest it, we do not necessarily advise a partition suit.
One member cautions that open and full disclosure of all funds received from a business partner is required under the Judicial Code.
Two members think you should actually make a public proclamation as to your intention to divest yourself of the property and about your recusal policy. Speaking as one member, this writer sees a public proclamation as an unfortunate drawing o public attention to a predicament in which you appear to have no fault.
You report that you have hired counsel to help you in this matter and it is not though appropriate for this committee to recommend the particular solution to be chosen though several of us agree that some sort of trust would not be inappropriate.
I apologize if this opinion appears equivocal. However, I am hopeful it will provide some comfort.
Yours very truly,
Gavin K. Letts, Vice-Chairman
Committee on Standards of Conduct Governing Judges
cc: All Committee Members
Participating members: Judges Blanchard, Booth, Dell, Goldstein,
Grube Tedder, Letts and Attorney M. Craig Massey
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
Kathleen T. Phillips, 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