SUBJECT: Whether a judicial candidate may
publicly defend her conduct regarding
personal false statements made by her opponent
The inquirer, a judicial candidate, claims that her opponent has made false statements about her and also has made false statements concerning his own candidacy. She asks whether she may ethically reveal her opponents inconsistency to the public or whether she is required to maintain silence in that respect and only report the alleged inconsistency to The Florida Bar Grievance Committee.
In opinion 94-16 the Committee observed, "the code does not directly address what is ethically acceptable when a candidate wishes to criticize a political opponent. (The) Committee finds that in general it would be proper to criticize a political opponent when the criticism is truthful, pertinent and material to the judicial office." Canon 7A(3)(d)(iii) provides that a candidate for judicial office shall not "knowingly misrepresent the identity, qualifications, present position or other fact concerning the candidate or an opponent." Canon 7A(3)(e) provides that a candidate may respond to personal attacks on the candidate's record as long as the response does not violate section 7A(3)(d). The express prohibition here appears to be limited to knowing misrepresentation of the facts concerning the candidate or the opponent.
Accordingly, the inquirer may truthfully defend her own conduct and may also truthfully bring out matters with regard to her opponents's campaign conduct.
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 the committee. Petition of the Committee on Standards of Conduct for Judges, 327 So.2d 5 (Fla.1976).
Charles J. Kahn, Jr.
Chairman, Committee on Standards of Conduct Governing Judges
Participation Members: Judges Cardonne, Dell, Green, C. Kahn, L. Kahn, Patterson, Rushing, Silverman, Smith, Tolton and Attorney Novicki
cc: All Committee Members
Office of the State Courts Administrator (name of judge deleted from this copy)
Editor's note: The original opinion does not contain the date on which the opinion was issued.