October 11, 1994

(OPINION 94-42
(Noncandidate Judge (Attend Political Function
(For Judicial Candidate

Re: Committee on Standards of Conduct Governing Judges
Your Inquiry dated September 2, 1994

You inquire whether a judge holding office, who is not a candidate for such office, can attend a political function given on behalf of a candidate for judicial office, if you do not speak, do not endorse any candidate and do not purchase a ticket or make a contribution.

In Opinion 79/10 this Committee said that it was a violation of Canon 7 for a judge, who is not a candidate, to attend a partisan political function for the purpose of socializing. Thus, the issue is whether a judge, who is not a candidate, may attend non-partisan political functions for the purpose of socializing.

Seven members interpreted the overall term of the Code to provide that a judge who is not a candidate, may not attend any political function merely as a social event, even if strictly for the purpose of socializing with other guests. One member felt the Code only precludes a judge who is not a candidate from attenting any partisan politcal functions even as a social event.

Canon 7 A (2) to mean that judicial candidates may only "attend political gatherings" when a candidate for election or reelection. Additionally, Canon 7 A (4) states "A judge should not engage in any other political activity except on behalf of measures to improve the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice." (Emphasis supplied.) See Opinion 92-28 (where Committee, by a 6-4 margin, found that a judge could not become a member of a local bipartisan Tiger Bay Club because it "... is heavily involved in political affairs. Such invovement is contrary to the intent of Canon 7 A."

Although the commentary to Canon 7 A (1)(b) does state that "A judge or a candidate for judicial office does not publicly endorse another candidate by attending any political function on behalf of a candidate for judicial office.", (emphasis supplied). The Committee felt that when considered with other parts of the Code, this sentence merely allows judicial candidates to attend other candidate functions during a campaign without arguably endorsing a candidate.

Attending judicial candidate political functions when not a candidate would also violate the
prohibition of Canon 2 B that "A judge should not allow his personal relationships to influence his judicial conduct or judgment. He should not lend the prestige of his office to advance the private interests of others." One member commented, "Judges attending these type of functions appear to the public (and probably to lawyers and other judges) that they are supporting the candidate in question and, thus, the judge's presence has the potential to lend the prestige of their office to the candidacy or the other individual." Additionally, by attending one judicial candidate's function and not another, unnecessary problems may also be created that extend beyond the election. See also Canon 1 which states: "A judge ... should himself observe high standards of conduct so that the integrity and indepence of the judiciary may be preserved."

In Opinion 87-22, a judge whose husband was running for mayor of Hollywood, Florida, submitted three relevant questions:

1. "If my husband has supporters meet at my home, may I serve as hostess, pouring coffee, serving cake and greeting guests, provided I do not solicit their vote or support?" Six members of the Committee found this was not permitted. Two members recommended that she remain totally apart from the party, but felt that at most she could acknowledge the presence of her husband's supporters and bid them farewell upon their departure.

2. "At a meeting of a non-political group, where one or more candidates and their spouses are invited, may I attend provided I do not solicit anyone's support or vote?" Six members responded that this was not permitted and one other member stated "no" unless the meeting is wholly social and there is no organized political activity undertaken by any candidate.

3. "At a political meeting where candidates' spouses attend, may I attend provided I do not solicit anyone's support or vote?" Eight members responded that this practice is not permitted.

In Opinion 77-21, this Committee approvingly quoted the following from Opinion 77-15:

"An incumbent judge should not attend a testimonial for an announced political candidate if the testimonial is for the purpose of raising funds for such candidate or is a purely political affair. A judge is not precluded from attending such an appreciation function or a testimonial function for any person whether an announced political candidate or not, if the testimonial or appreciation function is a bona fide appreciation or testimonial function and not sponsored by a political party.

As to whether an incumbent judge should attend a testimonial for another judicial officer seeking re-election, the Committee is of the same view expressed in the preceding paragraph." (Emphasis supplied.)

The Committee realizes that in many areas of the state, judges feel they must attend nonpartisan political events throughout their terms, or be subject to criticism for "only showing up at election time when you want our vote." However, as stated in Opinion 74-11, where a judicial candidate inquired whther he could attend a "Political Fair" as a "private citizen" rather than as a judge or judicial candidate:

In Opinion 74-11 a judge, who was a candidate, inquired whether he could attend a nonpartisan "Political Fair" as a "private citizen" rather than as a judge or judicial candidate. The Committee responded as follows:

"May we point out to you that once an individual occupies a judicial office or becomes a candidate for judicial office, he can no longer separate his public position from his private status. He cannot avoid the strictures of the Code of Judicial Conduct by attempting to place himself in a private citizen status. He is a judge or judicial candidate at all times."

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 judges, but the Judicial Qualifications Commission is not bound by the interpretive opinions by the Committee. Petition of the Committee on Standards of Conduct Governing Judges, 327 So.2d 5 (Fla. 1976).

Very truly yours,

Steve Rushing, Chairman
Committee on Standards of Conduct
Governing Judges

CC: All Committee Members
Office of the State Courts Administrator
(Name of judge deleted from this copy)

Participating Members: Judges Doughtie, Farina, Patterson, Rushing, Silverman, Taylor, Tolton, and Edwards, Esq.