Re: Committee on Standard of Conduct Governing Judges inquiry dated August 24, 1992
You have inquired whether it would be proper pursuant to the Code of Judicial conduct, particularly Canon 5F (Prohibition on Practice of Law) for you to distribute a brochure entitled, "Family Law Division, Pro Se Pointers."
The four page brochure was drafted to assist pro se litigants in uncontested dissolution of marriage cases. It contains a checklist of twelve documents ( Final Judgment, Notice of Hearing, Affidavits, Income Dissolution Order, etc.) It also contains two pages of explanation of the forms and procedures necessary to obtain a final judgment. Also, the litigants are requested to sign and date the brochure and return it to your judicial assistant for review at least thirty minutes prior to final hearing.
The committee is almost divided (5 to 5) on the question. Six members generally agree that you may assist pro se litigants by providing them with the appropriate forms. Five of these six members generally agree you can provide and explanation how to complete the forms and generally how to proceed in court.
These Committee members recognize that particularly in urban courts there is an increasingly large number of pro se litigants seeking uncontested dissolutions of marriage. Judges in these urban family courts need to provide informational assistance to pro se litigants so that the judges can promptly dispense the business of the court, Canon 3A(5). The brochure is an activity that improves the administration of justice (Canon 4).
Also, these judges cite the Florida Supreme Court's request and approval of forms for pro se litigants. In Opinion 91-30, this Committee said it is permissible for judges to have "literature concerning divorce" in their offices and to distribute forms for final judgments and order for temporary support.
Finally, these Judges believe the brochure is generic in nature and not directed toward specific litigants or cases.
Five Committee members believe your brochure may be the practice of law prohibited by Canon 5F. Three members believe you should either refer the brochure to The Florida Bar's Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee for an opinion or request the Family Law Section of The Florida Bar to draft and distribute the proposed helpful brochure.
Some of these committee members believe that any ambiguity concerning the practice of law should be resolved against the permissibility of the activity. They believe the brochure may be legal or quasi-legal work that is potentially the subject of litigation. One committee member states that if a judge answers a question of a litigant who has not properly followed the brochure instructions, the judge's answer may be the practice of law.
One committee member claims that the Florida Supreme Court in In Re Inquiry Concerning a Judge, 357 So. 2d 172 (1978) implicitly held that judges are barred from preparing court pleadings. In that case the Judicial Qualifications commission charged that a county judge placed his impartiality in question by preparing motions for a change of venue and mailing them to defendants with directions how to file them.
The 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 issued by the committee. Petition of the Committee on Standards of Conduct for Judges, 327 So2d 5 (Fla.1976).
With regards, I remain,
Yours very truly,
Harvey Goldstein, Chairman
Committee on Standards of Conduct Governing Judges
cc: All Committee Members
Office of State Court Administrator (name of Judge deleted from this copy)
Participating members: Judges Booth, Dell, Levy, Dell, Green, Doughtie Tolton, Farina Goldstein, Rushing and Clarke, Esq.