August 16, 1996

Opinion 96-16


Service on Domestic Violence Clemency Panel
Canon 2A, 4A and 5C(2)

Re: Committee on Standards of Conduct Governing Judges
Your inquiry dated May 2, 1996 as supplemented on June 28, 1996


You inquire whether you may serve on the Domestic Violence Clemency Panel. You are the Administrative Judge of a Domestic Violence Division. This review panel plays a role in determining whether domestic violence victims are granted some form of clemency for the offenses (e.g. Murder or attempted murder of the abuser). According to the materials, the review panel on which you would serve determines whether applicants suffered from domestic abuse at the time of the offense for which they have been convicted. The review panel also may consider whether incarcerated applicants should be granted a waiver of the rule which provides that incarcerated persons cannot apply for clemency. The review panel may include a report with the Parole Commission's final report and recommendation to the Clemency Board.

There is no disagreement that the review panel serves a laudable purpose and that it relates to the law, the legal system and the administration of justice. However, all nine responding Committee members believe that you cannot serve on the review panel. Canon 2A provides that a judge "shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary. Canon 4A states the a judge 's quasi-judicial activities shall be conducted so as to not "(1) cast reasonable doubt on the judge's capacity to act impartially as a judge" and "(3) interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties." Canon 5C(2) provides:

A judge shall not accept appointment to a governmental committee or commission or other governmental position that is concerned with issues of fact or policy on matters other than the improvement of the law, the legal system or the administration of justice.

The commentary further provides that '[j]udges should not accept governmental appointments that are likely to interfere with the effectiveness and independence of the judiciary."

In Opinion 94-32 we held that a judge could not serve on the Advisory Committee for the Florida Women's Clemency Project. That Opinion controls, especially as you would be on an actual review panel that looks at facts of a particular case and makes recommendations to the Parole Commission, as opposed to an advisory committee. Further, as the Administrative Judge of a Domestic Violence Division your service as a member of the review panel would call your impartiality into question and would likely require your disqualification in domestic violence cases.

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 judge, but the Judicial Qualifications Commission is not bound by the interpretive opinions issued by t