Date Issued: October 16, 1997
Judge appearing in a promotional sales video attesting to the usefulness of a company's video conferencing equipment, but not endorseing (sic) the company or the equipment.
May a judge ethically appear in a company's promotional sales video, in which the judge demonstrates the company's video conferencing equipment and attests to its courtroom capabilities, without endorsing the company or its equipment?
Answer: No. A judge may not ethically appear in a promotional sales video, in which the judge provides a testimonial for the company or its equipment. Appearing in such a video violates Canon 2B by lending the prestige of the judge's office to advance the private interest of others.
A company is asking the inquiring judge to appear in a promotional video and demonstrate the use of the (sic) its video conferencing equipment. The company intends to show the video to prospective buyers in other circuits.
The equipment is currently being utilized in the judge's courthouse for arraignments and first appearances. The judge is extremely pleased with its performance, and believes that every courtroom should be quipped with it.
The company is not asking the judge to endorse it or its equipment. Instead, the judge is requested to provide a statement on the effectiveness and versatility of the equipment, as well as its usefulness and capabilities in the courtroom.
Canon 2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct directs judges to avoid impropriety and the appearances of impropriety in all activities. Subsection B of the Canon provides, in pertinent part, that "A judge shall not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge of others..."
In Opinion 76-8, a judge asked the Committee whether he could ethically provide a taped interview on behalf of a local boys' club which would later be shown on a telethon the purpose of raising funds for the club. The Committee unanimously held that while the boys' club activities were worthwhile and laudable, the judge's participation in that taped interview would constitute an impermissible "use of the prestige of his office."
The Committee has previously addressed several inquiries on the use of a judge's name to promote the interest of others. Se Opinion 93-34 (A judge may not ethically endorse a real estate development in an advertisement. Doing so would clearly violate Canon 2B by lending the prestige of judicial office to benefit the private interests of others.); Opinion 82-1 (A judge, who sits as a member of the board of directors of a dispute conciliation corporation, may not permit his or her name to appear on stationery or brochures that explain and promote the use of the services of a conciliation.).
It is unquestioned that the inquiring judge holds a sincere belief that the installation of the subject video conferencing equipment n every courtroom in the State of Florida will improve the legal system and the administration of justice. See, Canon 4. Notwithstanding, Canon 2B places a limitation upon the judge's conduct in promoting the equipment.
The inquiring judge states that the company is not seeking a judicial endorsement. However the company's request for a testimonial proves otherwise. While not amounting to a direct endorsement, it is abundantly clear that a judge, who appears in a promotional sales video and provides a testimonial for viewing by prospective customers, is at the very least tacitly endorsing the product. Such conduct is impermissible and contrary to the dictates of Canon 2B, because it lends the prestige of the judge's office to advance the private interests of others.
One committee members specifically notes that it may be permissible for the inquiring judge to be filmed using the equipment in open court so long as the judge does not make a verbal "endorsement" or statement on the "usefulness of the video conferencing capabilities."
Florida Code of Judicial Conduct, Canons 2 and 2B.
Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, Opinion 93-34 (May 24, 1993); Opinion 82-1 (January 21, 1982); and Opinion 76-8 (April 8, 1976).
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 Governing Judges, 327 So. 2d 5 (Fla. 1976). For further information contact The Honorable Scott Silverman, Chairman, Committee on Standards of Conduct Governing Judges, The Richard E. Gerstein Justice Building, 1351 NW 12th Street, #513, Miami, Florida 33125
Participating Members: Judges Dell, Green, Charles Kahn, Lisa Kahn, Patterson, Rushing, Silverman, Tolten (sic) and Attorney Novicki
Copies furnished to:
All Committee Members
All members of the J.Q.C.
Justice Charles T. Wells
Office of the State Courts Administrator (name of judge deleted from this copy)