November 30, 1994 PERSONAL AND CONFIDENTIAL
(Join Association to
Re: Committee on Standards of Conduct Governing Judges
Your Inquiry Dated October 5, 1994
You inquire whether a county judge who is a commercial leaseholder in certain beach property can be a member of an organization formed to protect leaseholder's interests, so long as you do not serve as an officer or speak publicly on behalf of the organization.
With the caveat that you must not participate in any fund raising activities, that you must be careful not to allow the misuse of the prestige of your office and that it may be necessary to discontinue participation if the organization engages in adversary legal proceedings that impact the performance of your judicial duties, all ten responding committee members believe that you may ethically protect your leasehold interests in this matter.
Concerning civic activities, Canon 5 (B) (1) says, "A judge should not serve if its is likely that the organization will be engaged in proceedings that would ordinarily come before him or will be regularly engaged in adversary proceedings in any court." Canon 5 C (3)(a)(ii) of the new Code of Judicial Conduct, effective January 1, 1995, states that a judge shall not serve if it is likely that the organization "will be engaged frequently in adversary proceedingsin the court of which the judge is a member or any court subject to the appellate jurisdiction of the court of which the judge is a member. (Emphasis supplied.)
In light of Canon 5B(1), two judges reluctantly agreed that you could be a member of such a leaseholder organization with the following caveat: "Landlord/Tenant cases contribute to the most heated litigation. As a county judge, he may find himself at the short end of a disqualification motion for his membership, especially if the other party is also a member. I would tell him there is no proscription against being a member, but he should carefully consider the wisdom of doing so."
In Opinion 86/3 the Committee unanimously agreed that a retired judge, eligible for recall to judicial service, could individually protest the rezoning of property near his home and/or could actively participate with others similarly situated in any legal action which might arise from the protest, as long as he did not draw upon the influence of his office. The Committee cautioned him to pay careful attention not to continue the informal group association in the event such activities developed into an "unseemly debate." Two members advised the judge to recuse himself on any cases involving parties who have a direct interest in the zoning dispute.
In Opinion 93-33, the Committee unanimously
agreed that a judge could attend local land trust
meetings and participate on a council or committee of a local land trust with the understanding that the judge could not participate in any fund raising activities nor "lend the prestige of judicial office."
In Opinion 74-15, the Committee held that a judge could institute litigation with ten or eleven other owners to develop property to its highest and best use. There, the litigation was not within the judge's jurisdiction. The Committee stated, "The restrictions placed upon a judicial office holder by the Code of Judicial Conduct were never intended to divest a judge of his right to be involved in investment opportunities so long as they do not interfere or conflict with the performance of judicial duties."
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
CC: All Committee Members
Office of the State Courts Administrator
(Name of judge deleted from this copy)
Participating Members:Judges Dell, Doughtie, Farina, Green, Kahn, Patterson, Rushing, Silverman, Taylor, Tolton, and Edwards, Esq.