Opinion 93-9

Canon 5F - Practice of Law
Canon 2 - Appearance of Impropriety
Limited computer consultant to former law firm

Dear Judge

You have inquired whether you may provide very limited computer consulting services on weekends or in the evening on an "as needed" basis to your former law firm during a limited period of time such as a three month period.

You state that you were elected to the bench September 1992, terminated your employment with your law firm in November 1992, and will assume office in January 1993.

Further, you state that you will be paid $40.00 per hour which is reasonable pay for a computer consultant. You wish to provide the computer consulting services out of loyalty to your former employer and not for the additional compensation. Therefore, you also want to know whether the proposed activity would be less improper or proper if you received no compensation for your services.

Your former employer believes you are the only person in the law firm who is able to master a certain computer program. If employed, you will teach a new associate and your former employer how to create certain legal documents with the stated computer program. You would not be creating any legal documents for clients. You do not believe you performance of the above services would be considered the practice of law.

Six of the nine participating Committee members do not believe you should provide computer services with or without pay for your former law firm. One member cites Committee opinion 90-14 (a Judge could not be a paid consultant to a drug rehabilitation enterprise.) This member states that being a Judge is a full time job. Another member believes your proposed activity is nothing more than the extension of your services and expertise as a member of your former law firm. Another member states that the proposed activity not only has the appearance of impropriety but constitutes the prohibited practice of law by a Judge. This member also believes that you should devote all of your efforts to the job to which you have been elected.

Three of the nine participating Committee members do not believe the proposed activity constitutes the practice of law. They do not believe the activity is necessarily in violation of the Code if it doesn't interfere with your judicial obligations and it is limited as described in your letter.

However, they are concerned with the possibility of an appearance of impropriety. One member questions how the proposed activity would appear to third parties, particularly clients of your former law firm, if the clients learned you were consulting with your former law firm and helping to create certain legal documents.

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

JT/mc

cc: All Committee Members

Participating members: Judges Tolton, Green, Booth, Levy, Dell, Doughtie, Goldstein, Farina, Rushing and Clarke, Esq.

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