PERSONAL AND CONFIDENTIAL

(OPINION 94-44
(Officer in Local
December 14, 1994 (Bar Association


In re: Committee on Standards of Conduct Governing Judges
Your Inquiry Dated October 14, 1994

 

You inquire whether a circuit judge can be an officer of a local bar association.

In Opinion 79-15 the Committee unanimously held that a judge could not run for the president of a bar association stating: "... the judge places himself in a position where he must ask for votes or support from lawyers. The question will inevitably be raised whether the judge is exerting pressures on lawyers who must litigate before him. This gives at least the appearance of impropriety. While the same situation may be said to exist in judicial elections, it is to some measure tempered by the constraints of Cannon (sic) 7. Canon 7 has no application to a race for bar president."

Additionally, in Opinion 79-16 the Committee unanimously opined that a recently appointed judge should not retain his position as president of a local bar association. One member pointed out that the president of a bar association is called on to act as spokesman for its membership on matters affecting the local bar, stating: "I believe that an effective bar association should be free to involve itself in the important issues which may involve its membership on appropriate occasions. It seems unlikely that a judge serving as president, would be equally as free to speak for the membership and be effective, as would an attorney who is not subject to the canons of judicial ethics."

Although the instant inquiry deals with being an officer, rather than president of a local bar association, the Committee finds no relevant distinction with the above cited opinions and unanimously answers your inquiry in the negative.

Clearly, in any bar election, especially against a lawyer opponent, the question would be raised whether the judge was exerting "subtle pressure" on lawyers who must litigate before him or her. Additionally, conflicts may arise between the interests and demands of the bar and the judiciary that may present difficulties for a judge purporting to act in an elected, representative capacity for members of the bar. Because Canon 4 encourages judges to engage in activities to "improve the law, the legal system and the administration of justice," the Committee believes that a judge may ethically serve as an appointed chair of a local bar association committee. However, a host of potential ethical dilemmas may arise when judges run for office in local bar associations.

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

SOR:sm
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, Taylor, Tolton, and Edwards, Esq.