FLORIDA SUPREME COURT
JUDICIAL ETHICS ADVISORY COMMITTEE
Opinion Number 98-17
Date of Issue: August 5, 1998
CANDIDATE FOR JUDICIAL OFFICE ATTENDING A "QUESTION AND ANSWER" FORUM SPONSORED BY A PARTISAN ORGANIZATION
May a candidate for judicial office attend a "Candidate Question and Answer" forum and reception sponsored by the local Young Republican Club?
ANSWER: Assuming that the event is not a fundraiser to benefit any individual candidate or the local Young Republican Club, the judicial candidate may attend the event. However, the candidate should be cautious that his or her presence, remarks, and/pr actions are not construed by others to be political or partisan.
The inquiring candidate for judicial office is invited to a "Candidate Question and Answer" forum and reception sponsored by the local Young Republican Club. Candidates for all seats in local races are invited. Democrats, Republicans, and Nonpartisans including the inquiring candidate's opposition. The proceeds from the $15 per person ticket go to the local Young Republican Club to cover the costs of the event.
For the purposes of this opinion, this committee assumes that the preceding representations are accurate and that the event is not a fundraiser, despite the $15 per person charge.
Canon 7 is entitled, "A Judge or Candidate for Judicial Office Shall Refrain From Inappropriate Political Activity." Specific to this inquiry, Canon 7C(3) provides:
A judicial candidate involved in an election or re-election, or a merit retention candidate that he or she has active opposition, may attend a political party function to speak in behalf of his or her candidacy or on a matter that relates to the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice. The function may not be a fundraiser, and the invitation to speak must also include the other candidates, if any, for that office. The candidate should refrain from commenting on the candidate's affiliation with any political party or other candidate, and should avoid expressing a position on any political issue. A judicial candidate attending a political party function must avoid conduct that suggests support or opposition to a political issue, or another candidate. Conduct limited to that described above does not constitute participation in a political party activity.
The issue raised in this request is akin to the one in Opinion 77-15. In that opinion, this committee stated in its fifth point, "A judicial candidate seeking election or reelection may attend political forums or rallys [sic] where other candidates are in attendance."
Additionally, in Opinion 78-6, a majority of the committee found no impropritey in a judge addressing a Republican Women's Club and speaking on behalf of his candidacy for re-election. This committee specifically warned that the function not be a fundraising affair and that the judge's remarks not be partisan or politically oriented.
Since the inquirer's event is not a fundraiser, it is ethically sound under the facts presented for a candidate for judicial office to attend and take part in the exchange of questions and answers at a political forum. A candidate should pay particular attention that his or her presence, remarks, and/or actions are not and are not construed by others to be political or partisan.
Florida Code of Judicial Conduct: Canon 7; 7C(3).
Florida Judicial Ethich Advisory Committee Opinions: 77-15; 78-6
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 Gisela Cardonne, John W. Dell, Charles J. Kahn, Lisa D. Kahn, David F. Patterson, Jose M. Rodriguez, Scott J. Silverman, Jere Tolton
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)