FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

JUDICIAL ETHICS ADVISORY COMMITTEE


Opinion Number 98-16
Date of Issue: August 5, 1998

CHIEF JUDGE SOLICITING DONATIONS FROM JUDGES, COURT PERSONNEL AND OTHERS WITHIN THE CIRCUIT'S COURT SYSTEM TO BENEFIT AN ARE HOMELESS SHELTER

ISSUES

May the chief judge of a judicial circuit implement a program in which he/she asks judges, court personnel, and others within the circuit's court system to voluntarily donate items to a homeless shelter?

ANSWER: No. A chief judge may neither solicit donations from any other judges in which the judge exercises a supervisory or appellate authority nor may the judge personally participate in the solicitation of donations from the court personnel and others within the circuit's court system.

FACTS

A county, in alliance the largest (sic) city within its borders, is in the process of constructing and eventually sustaining a homeless shelter that would provide services to the indigents within the county. The inquiring chief judge desires to implement a program in which he/she would ask each judge, judicial employee, as well as employees of the administrative offices of the court, county probation, etc., to make monthly contributions to the shelter. Contributions would be voluntary. Examples of donations may include such items as can goods, laundry detergent and hand soap.

If successful, the chief judge envisions extending the donation program to include the Office of the State Attorney, Public Defender, and Clerk of the Court.

DISCUSSION

Canon 4D(2)(a) is entitled, "A Judge May Engage in Activities to Improve the Law, the Legal System, and the Administration of Justice." It provides:

A judge as an officer, director, trustee or non-legal advisor, or as a member or otherwise:

(a) may assist such an organization in planning fund-raising and may participate in the management and investment of the organization's funds, but shall not personally participate in the solicitation of funds or other fundraising activities, except that a judge may solicit funds from other judges over whom the judge does not exercise supervisory or appellate authority; [emphasis added]

Canon 4D(2)(a) prohibits judges from personally participating in the solicitation of funds or other fundraising activities. See Opinion 95-22 (A judge should not personally participate as a team member of a bingo game at a local Senior Citizen's Center as a fundraising project for Kiwanis International.); Opinion 94-33 (A judge should not personally solicit funds or permit the use of the prestige of his or her office to solicit funds; and it is improper for a judge to personally solicit "in kind" contributions for the Domestic Violence Task Force); Opinion 92-38 (A judge is ethically precluded from personally collecting coats and gloves to be distributed to those in need by the Salvation Army.).

The concerns of permitting judges to personally solicit funds or donation is clearly described in the commentary to Canon 4D(2), which provides, in apposite part:

Solicitation of funds for an organization and solicitation for memberships similarly involve the danger that the person solicited will feel obligated to respond favorably to the solicitor if the solicitor is in a position of influence and control.

Accordingly, it is improper for the chief judge of a circuit to personally solicit contributions from judicial employees, probation officers, as well as members of the administrative office of the court, State Attorneys Office, Public Defenders Office, Clerk of the Court, and all others envisioned by the inquiring judge.

It is equally important that the inquiring judge be mindful of Canon 4A, which provides:

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. [Emphasis added]

The inquiring judge also seeks this committee's opinion on whether he or she may solicit donation from other judges within the circuit. Since the inquiring judge, as chief judge, exercises supervisory authority over all the trial court judges within the circuit and appellate authority over those judges serving in the county court, the judge is precluded by Canon 4D(2)(a) from personally soliciting donations or contributions from those judges. See Opinion 96-27 (A judge man gently solicit his or her colleagues, over whom no supervisory or appellate authority is exercised, to participate in the construction of homes for Habitat for Humanity.) There is no difference between a judge soliciting funds, donations, contributions, or services within the meaning of Canon 4D(2)(a).

REFERENCES

Florida Code of Judicial Conduct: Canon 4, Canon 4D(2), Canon 4D(2)(a).

Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinions: 96-27, 95-22, 94-33, 92-38

__________________

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 Charles Kahn, Lisa Kahn, Patterson, Rodriguez, Silverman, Smith, Tolton and Dell


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)