SUBJECT: Judicial Pro Bono Project;
Constructing Homes for Habitat for Humanity,
Soliciting Other Judges to Participate in the Program
Canons 5A, 5A(2), 5C
The inquiring judge states that he and another judge in his county are putting together a judicial pro bono project. The project involves working for a day for the Habitat for Humanity organization. This would be a "hammer and nails" project where the judges would go and actually help construct homes for Habitat for Humanity. It appears that the inquiring judge intends to solicit other judges within his circuit to participate as part of a program entitled "Put Something Back Project." The inquiring judge request an opinion on whether the participation of judges as a "Pro Bono" project offends the Code of Judicial Conduct.
As a preliminary matter, the Committee would note that under the stringent rules adopted by the Florida Supreme Court, the proposed project would not meet the definition of pro bono service, because it is not uncompensated public service activity directly related to services for the courts and the legal need of the poor. See Amendments to Rules Regulating The Florida Bar, 630 So. 2d 501 (Fla. 1993). Accordingly, the Committee does not believe that the inquiring judge may represent this endeavor as a pro bono project. The question remains whether a judge may participate in the project, and if so, whether a judge may solicit other judges to participate.
According to the information provided, Habitat for Humanity is "an ecumenical Christian ministry which assists in the building of homes for low income families." Under Canons 5A and 5C, judges may participate in civic and charitable activities which do not (1) cast reasonable doubt on the judge's capacity to act impartially as a judge; (2) demean the judicial office; or (3) interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties. Also under Canon 5C a judge may, as a member of a charitable organization, assist such an organization in planning fund-raising and may participate in the management and investment of funds, but shall not personally participate in the solicitation of funds or other fund-raising activities, except that a judge may solicit funds from other judges over whom the judge does not exercise supervisory or appellate authority. In addition, and also under Canon 5C, a judge shall not use or permit the use of the prestige of judicial officer (sic) for fund raising or membership solicitation.
Under these standards, a judge may participate in a one-day home building project with Habitat for Humanity. No ethical prohibition bar a judge from gently soliciting his or her colleagues over whom no supervisory or appellate authority is exercised to participate in the same project. The Committee would, however, strongly caution the inquiring judge that this project should not be presented of portrayed as a project of the judges of his county. Such a portrayal would place an official imprimatur upon Habitat for Humanity. The Committee also advises the inquiring judge that the occasion should not be used as an opportunity for the judges to call attention to themselves as good citizens because such would tend to demean the judicial office in violation of Canon 5A(2). The Committee notes that thousands of Floridians participate in these types of activities on a regular basis without calling attention to themselves or their occupations. No reason exists why judges cannot do the same.
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).
Dated this 23rd day of December, 1996.
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, Tolton and Attorney Novicki
cc: All Committee Members
Office of the State Courts Administrator (name of judge deleted from this copy)