August 21, 1996

Opinion 96-17

Whether a county judge can be
a master of ceremonies at a candidates' forum
Canon 4A(2) and Canon 7D

Re: Committee on Standards Governing Judges

You are a county judge and have asked whether you may serve as master of ceremonies at a candidates' forum at a local homeowners' association meeting. You indicated that your role will be limited to introducing each candidate, and that you do not intend to give a political speech.

Seven responding members of (sic) believe that you may permissibly engage in this activity . These members felt that because there was no partisan connection with this meeting, nothing in Canon 7 would directly prohibit you from serving as master of ceremonies. You should, however, be aware that in Opinion 80-15 the Committee stated that the Canons prohibit a judge's appearance "as an impartial interviewer" to ask questions of candidates who are running for county school superintendent. That opinion did not cite to a specific code provision, although it might be assumed that the Committee was concerned that the judge as an interviewer might become caught up in the discussion of the issues facing the candidates. One of the members responding favorably would nevertheless encourage you not to engage in this activity. This member states that homeowners' associations are known to be aggressively political and that a judge should not participate in the political process except on your own behalf. Another of the seven felt that your proposed activity would be allowable under Canon 4 because it is an activity concerning the legal system and the law.

Three responding members feel that the activity you proposed would be prohibited, although each gives a different reason. One dissenting member states that "opening the doors even slightly to permit judges who are not involved n their own elections to become involved in any manner in the political/election arena will erode the dignity of the judicial branch." Accordingly, this member finds that your proposed conduct would violate Canon 4A(2) in that it demeans the judicial office. Another dissenting member finds that your proposed conduct is prohibited by Canon 7 and by Opinion 90-22. In Opinion 90-22, the Committee held that the former Canon 7 and section 105.071, Florida Statutes, would prohibit a sitting judge from moderating a television forum involving congressional and state legislative candidates. You may wish to consult that opinion as well as the statute. A last dissenting member, although not citing a particular section of the code, state (sic) that you should not engage in this activity because too much chance exists that you as the master of ceremonies might fail to show complete impartiality, and moreover, a judge could not possibly be the only person that the association can find to handle this particular task.

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 co