Opinion Number: 98-25
Date of Issue: October 28, 1998
WHETHER A JUDGE-ELECT MAY ACTIVELY PARTICIPATE IN NON-JUDICIAL CAMPAIGNS BEFORE HE IS SWORN IN AS A COUNTY JUDGE?
Whether a judge-elect may actively participate in non-judicial
campaigns before he is sworn into office as a county judge?
The inquiring judge -elect was elected on September 1, 1998.
He was not the incumbent and has never held a judicial office.
He is scheduled to be sworn into office in January 1999. He asks
whether he may become involved in non-judicial campaigns, since
he is neither a candidate nor a judge.
Although the inquiring judge- elect is neither a judge nor a candidate, neither
is he a "private citizen." As pointed out in Opinion
74-11, "Once an individual occupies a judicial office, or becomes a
candidate for judicial office, he can no longer separate his public position
from his private status. He cannot avoid the strictures of the Code of Judicial
Conduct by attempting to place himself in a 'private citizen status.' He is
a judge or judicial candidate at all times."
This same rationale applies to a judge-elect. He is no longer a "private citizen", and must curtail his political involvement accordingly. A judge-elect is bound by the political restrictions in the Code of Judicial Conduct and should comply with the restrictions applicable to a sitting judge who is not a candidate. Florida Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 7 (1) (b) prohibits a judge or a candidate for election from publicly endorsing or publicly opposing another candidate for political office.
Florida Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 1 exhorts a judge to participate in establishing, maintaining, and enforcing high standards of conduct and to personally observe those standards so that the integrity and independence of the judiciary may be preserved. Florida Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 2(B) states :
"...A judge shall not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or others; nor shall a judge convey or permit others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence the judge."
A judge-elect participating in the political arena would be lending the prestige of his office to advance the private interests of the candidate that the judge elect is supporting. His involvement could easily convey the impression that the candidate is in a special position to influence the judge elect.
"One is not bound by the Canons of Judicial Conduct until he legally assumes the duties and responsibilities of a judge." Opinion 74-13. However, the Judicial Qualifications Commission may investigate and recommend the removal or reprimand of any judge whose conduct in or outside of office warrants such action. The Florida Supreme Court has consistently ruled that pre-judicial conduct may be used as a basis for removal or reprimand of a judge. Inquiry Concerning A Judge, P. Kevin Davey, 645 So.2d 398 (Fla. 1994); Inquiry Concerning A Judge, Mark A. Speiser, 445 So.2d 343 (Fla. 1984).
Florida Code of Judicial Conduct, Canons 1, 2(B), and 7(1)(b).
Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinions 74-11 and 74-13.
Inquiry Concerning A Judge, P. Kevin Davey, 645 So.2d 398
Inquiry Concerning A Judge, Mark A. Speiser, 445 So.2d 343 (Fla. 1984).
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, 698 So.2d 834 (Fla. 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 Lisa D. Kahn, Chair, Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, Harry T. & Harriette V. Moore Justice Center, 2825 Judge Fran Jamieson Way, Viera, Florida, 32940-8006.
Participating Members: Judges Cardonne, Dell, C. Kahn, L. Kahn, Patterson, Rodriquez, Rushing, Smith, Swartz, 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 inquiring judge deleted from this copy)