Opinion withdraws 91-23
April 24, 1995
PERSONAL AND CONFIDENTIAL
(Reconsider Opinion 91-23
(Judicial Assistant Fund-
In re: Committee on Standards of Conduct Governing Judges
Your Inquiry Dated February 7, 1995
You requested that the Committee revisit Opinion 91-23, which held that judicial assistants were under the Code of Judicial Conduct and that judicial assistants may not engage in seeking donations and in fund-raising activities to fund expenses for judicial assistant educational conferences.
A majority of responding members of the Committee voted to withdraw Committee Opinion 91-23 and to hold that judicial assistants are not bound by the Code of Judicial Conduct outside of the courthouse or outside their "administrative responsibilities" beyond the specific proscriptions in Canons 2B, (not permitting others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence the judge); 3B(4), (required decorum of staff in official capacity); and 3C(2), (staff required to observe standards of fidelity and diligence and refrain from bias and prejudice in the performance of their official duties). Questions of judicial assistant conduct should be directed to state ethics law.
Two members of the majority of seven felt that a judge should be aware of the activities of his or her judicial assistant, as well as and for the same reasons as activity of family members, so that if these activities tend to reflect adversely on the judge's position, the judge will be able to counsel the judicial assistant.
Three members of the majority felt that although the Code does not apply to judicial assistants, and although judicial assistant local and state-wide organizations are not specifically forbidden from raising funds, judicial assistants should be cautioned that all activities, such as fund-raising, should be conducted in a dignified and appropriate manner, outside of the courthouse and without any misuse of the prestige of the judicial office.
A dissenting member stated:
What does concern me is who generally will donate to judicial assistants and who they will seek donations from, especially if the request is to defray costs of an education conference. Logically, the JA's are going to ask attorneys to give and that will more than likely occur at the Courthouse. Even if a JA waits and calls the attorney at night at home, the attorney will certainly feel coerced to contribute. The next most likely place to seek contributions is from local businesses, all who will have commercial litigation pending before a judge at one time or the other. And finally, the individual litigants are going to be anxious to donate, or at best feel compelled to do so, and that will occur at the Courthouse. A hodgepodge of all will be asked to donate even if a concession stand is set up at such an innocuous place as a ball park or local fair or craft show. In other words, contributions most likely will be those involved with the judicial system.
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 Doughtie, Farina, Green, Kahn, Patterson, Rushing, Silverman, and Tolton