August 15, 1995
PERSONAL AND CONFIDENTIAL
Presentation to church officials and
attendance at meeting
In re: Committee on Standards of Conduct Governing Judges
Your Inquiry Dated June 30, 1995
You have been asked to make a presentation to a denominational board that oversees a number of churches in your area concerning the resignation of the pastor of your church. The pastor resigned because of moral indiscretions. The presentation is "to state the facts as we know therm; to point out that the church officials over us have violated established policies and rules for handling of this kind of problem; and to ask for specific relief both financially and otherwise during the interim period when we do not have a pastor." You are not a member of your church's governing board. You inquire whether (1) you may ethically make the presentation and (2) if not, whether you may attend the meeting as a member of your church delegation.
Canon 5C(3) allows a judge to serve as an "officer, director, trustee or non-legal advisor of an educational, religious, charitable, fraternal, sororal or civic organization not conducted for profit" subject to limitations imposed under the Code. Canon 5C(3)(a) does not allow such service if it is likely that the organization "will be engaged in proceedings that would ordinarily come before the judge" or "will be engaged frequently in adversary proceedings in the court of which the judge is a member." While this matter could end up in Court, there really is not any indication this will happen.
There is concern that it could be perceived that you are taking the position of an advocate for your church. There is also concern that you may have been selected because of your legal background and position as a judge. You are not allowed to serve as legal advisor for the church. Also, there may be a perception that you could be lending the prestige of your office to advance private interests. Due to these concerns, a majority of six members of the Committee are of the opinion that you cannot make the presentation.
Three members of the committee believe that you may make the presentation to the denominational board. One member stated:
While it would be improper for the Judge to represent the church in court or before boards or commissions, I believe the Judge should be able to argue before the church hierarchy concerning church policies and rules. I would not construe his presentation as giving legal advice.
Another of the three stated that your participation would be allowable as long as your activity was that of a private citizen and not as a judge or legal advisor.
As to your second inquiry, the committee unanimously does not believe that your attendance at the hearing as a member of the church would violate any judicial canons. The element of the separation of church and state would certainly operate in your favor in the event you elect to attend the hearing.
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,
Oliver L. Green, Jr., 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 Cardonne, Dell, Doughtie, Green, Kahn, Rushing, Silverman, Tolton and Attorney Cushman