Florida Supreme Court

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 98-5

Date of Issue: April 20, 1998

ETHICAL PROPRIETY OF JUDGE ATTENDING EDUCATIONAL PROGRAMS DESIGNED FOR AND ATTENDED BY CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEYS

ISSUE

Is it ethically proper for a judge to attend educational programs designed for and attended by criminal defense attorneys? ANSWER: Yes. A judge may engage in activities to improve the law, the legal system, and the administration of Justice.

FACTS

The inquiring judge is contemplating attending a Continuing Legal Education program designed for and conducted by criminal defense lawyers. The judge also intends to obtain course materials from a Continuing Legal Education program produced for prosecutors. The judge questions whether the Code of Judicial Conduct prohibits him from attending such an educational program.

 

DISCUSSION

Canon 4 of the Code of Judicial Conduct is entitled, "A Judge May Engage in Activities to Improve the Law, the Legal System, and the Administration of Justice."

Canon 4B of the Code states:

A judge may speak, write, lecture, teach and participate in other quasi-judicial activities concerning the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice, subject to the requirements of this Code.

In addition, the Commentary to Canon 4B instructs that:

A judge is in a unique position to contribute to the improvement of the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice, including revision of substantive and procedural law and improvement of criminal and juvenile justice.

The majority of the Committee in Opinion 93-39 (June 28, 1993) interpreted this Commentary to mean that a judge can help develop or draft plans and proposals for programs that impact on the judicial system.

Therefore, a judge's mere presence as an educational program designed for and attended by criminal defense attorneys should be permitted, since it may improve the administration of justice by providing the judge with current important topics in the area of criminal law.

The inquiring judge has included in his letter to this Committee a copy of New York Judicial Ethics Advisory Opinion: 94-31 (March 10, 1994). However, the present inquiry is distinguishable from the New York opinion because the purpose of that program was to "maximize enforcement," whereas the only consideration at hand is an educational program dealing with current topics in criminal law.

Canon 4A states that:

A judge shall conduct all of the judge's quasi-judicial activities so that they 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.

Mere attendance at the described educational seminar is neither improper nor does it interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties. As such, it does not run afoul of Canon 4.

Prior Committee Opinion 92-34 approved of such an activity. In that opinion, the Committee members agreed that reasonable people would conclude that a judge's appearance at a ceremony being held by law enforcement agencies would not significantly undermine public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary. The committee concluded that there was no appearance of impropriety.

The Court in In Re Petition of Wiley, 671 A.2d 308 (1996), stated that a judge could attend the annual dinner dance of the Rhode Island Trial Lawyers Association. The court noted that although attorneys who generally represented plaintiffs primarily formed the association, its membership was open to all lawyers who are interested in litigation.

Accordingly, a judge who simply wants to attend an educative seminar should not be prohibited from doing so simply because the program is designed for and attended by criminal defense attorneys.

On (sic) member of this Committee notes that the judge's attendance is permissible so long as it "is not a fund-raising event and that his attendance is not used to promote or advertise the seminar."

 

REFERENCES

Florida Code of Judicial Conduct: Canons 4A and 4B.

Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinions: 92-34 (August 14, 1992) and 93-39 (June 28, 1993).

New York Judicial Ethics Advisory Opinion: 93-31 (March 10, 1994).

Rhode Island Case: In Re Petition of Wiley, 671 A.2d 308 (1996).

__________________

The Judicial Ethics Advisory 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 by the Committee. Petition of the Committee on Standards of Conduct Governing Judges, Opinion No. 90,133 (Fla. September 4, 1997). However, in reviewing the recommendations of the Judicial Qualification Commission for discipline, the Florida Supreme Court will consider conduct in accordance with a Committee opinion as evidence of good faith. Id.

For further information, contact The Honorable Scott J. Silverman, Chairman, Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, The Richard E. Gerstein Justice Building, 1351 NW 12th Street #513, Miami, Florida 33125.

Participating Members: Judges Cardonne, Lisa D. Kahn, Patterson, Rushing, Silverman, Smith, Tolton, and Attorney Blanton

Copies furnished to:

Justice Charles T. Wells
All Committee Members
All Members of the J.Q.C.
Office of the State Courts Administrator (Name of judge deleted from this copy)