FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

JUDICIAL ETHICS ADVISORY COMMITTEE

Opinion Number: 99-12

Date of Issue: April 27, 1999

JUDGE, AS MEMBER OF TASK FORCE CREATED TO ASSIST AND FACILITATE IMPLEMENTATION OF RECENT LEGISLATION, SIGNING RESOLUTION AS MEMBER OF TASK FORCE.

ISSUE


Whether a dependency judge, who is a member of a task force created to assist and facilitate the implementation of recent legislation, may sign a resolution of the task force which reflects the task force's findings.

ANSWER: YES.
FACTS

The inquiring judge is a member of an ad hoc task force created to assist and facilitate implementation of a program to privatize certain children's services. The pilot program was created by Ch. 98-180, §2, Laws of Fla., as codified at §409.1671, Fla. Stat. (Supp. 1998) and §39.3065, Fla. Stat. (Supp. 1998).1 The inquiring judge's county is one of three counties in the State of Florida designated by the legislature last year to engage in a pilot program of privatization of certain children's services. The State Attorney's Office will take over the prosecution of matters from the Department of Children and Families, and the investigative function of the Department of Children and Families will be transferred to the Sheriff's Office. To facilitate an orderly transference of this authority, an ad hoc group consisting of the primary stakeholders in the county has been meeting to smooth out the transition. The task force has prepared a resolution reflecting their findings. The inquiring judge asks whether it is appropriate for him to sign the task force's resolution.


DISCUSSION

The purpose of the task force is to assist and facilitate the implementation of the privatization of children's services, a program that is concerned with the improvement of the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice.

Canon 4D states in part that a judge may serve as a member, officer, director, trustee or non-legal advisor of an organization or governmental agency devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system or the administration of justice. Canon 5C(2) provides that a judge may accept appointment to a governmental commission or committee that is concerned with the improvement of the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice. Previous Committee opinions have found it proper for a judge to serve on advisory councils. The Committee has given approval for judges to serve on an alcohol, drug abuse, and mental health district planning council (Ops. 88-24 and 88-30); on the board of directors of a DUI countermeasure school (Op. 93-23); in an advisory capacity on the regional juvenile detention center's community advisory board (Op. 94-04); as a member of a district juvenile justice board (Op. 94-31); and as a member of the Victim's Assistance Advisory Council (Op. 98-26).

In Opinion 97-20 the Committee found a judge could serve on the County Criminal Justice Commission. The County Criminal Justice Commission was created by county ordinance. According to the ordinance, the Criminal Justice Commission was to study all aspects of the criminal justice and crime prevention system within the county. The Commission was to then make recommendations to the board of county commissioners on policies and programs designed to accomplish certain objectives. The inquiring judge's service on the task force is similar to service on the County Criminal Justice Commission.

The inquiring judge may serve on the ad hoc task force as the task force is concerned with the improvement of the law, the legal system or the administration of justice. Service on such a commission would not detract from the judge's role as an impartial magistrate. As the judge would be authorized to serve on the task force, the judge would be authorized to sign his name on a resolution adopted by the task force. Nothing in the content of the resolution is contrary to the Canons.2

REFERENCES

Florida Code of Judicial Conduct Canons: 4D, 5C(2).

Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinions: 88-24, 88-30, 93-23, 94-04, 94-31, 97-20, and 98-26.

Ch. 98-180, §2, Laws of Fla., §409.1671, Fla. Stat. (Supp. 1998), §39.3065, Fla. Stat. (Supp.1998).

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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. and Harriette V. Moore Justice Center, 2825 Judge Fran Jamieson Way, Viera, Florida, 32940-8006.


Participating Members: Judges Dell, C. Kahn, L. Kahn, Patterson, Rushing, Rodriquez, Smith and Swartz.

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)


1 §39.3065 was originally adopted as §415.5071, but was renumbered in the Official Florida Statutes.

2 The resolution states:


Resolution of Stakeholders in _______ County
Regarding Laws of Florida Chapter 98-180 Section 415.5071 and Section 409.1671

The persons identified below as members of the District ___ Health and Human Services Board task force and through consensus have resolved that the following are accurate reflections of their findings:

The task force believes that the goals of privatization are to ensure:

1) child safety;
2) community ownership;
3) sufficient resources; and
4) no major system gaps in the implementation process.


* The task force identified priority issues that should be addressed: transitional funding through July 1999; the budget for the next fiscal year; liability issues and the concept of a contingency grant pool.
* The highest priority issue is the need for transition funding through July 1999.
* Public policy should ensure protection of children as the primary goal of the child welfare system. The task force applauds Secretary Kearney's pubic declaration that child protection is the primary goal of the child welfare system.
* Public policy should provide for primary monitoring of the privatization program at the local level with periodic quarterly control by the Department of Children and Families in central office so as to avoid duplicative monitoring activities, disruption of operations and unnecessary expenses.
* Public policy should establish realistic goals for outcomes and evaluate the performance of the privatized program with the overall of continued improvement in the child protection system.
* Florida Chapter 98-180, Section 415.5071 and Section 409.1671 do not provide for transition costs; special capital outlay; and, for the full support of on-going services, and it is important that the legislature address these issues.
* During the transition process it is important that the legislature address liability issues in coordinating services and responsibilities between agencies.
* It was determined that there is an ongoing need to educate stakeholders and professionals in the community regarding the changes in the child protection system.

The undersigned stakeholders of ________ County support the intent of Chapter 98-180, and believe the transition of protective investigations and foster care and related services can be successful with adequate funding by the legislature; a streamlined monitoring system; and effective working agreements and procedures among the participating agencies.

_____________________________
District Administrator District ___, Department of Children & Families

_____________________________
Chair District ____ Health and Human Services Board

_____________________________
Sheriff________ County Sheriff's Office

_____________________________
State Attorney _________ and ________ County

_____________________________
Executive Director Juvenile Welfare Board

_____________________________
Chairman, Commission of Responsible Fatherhood, and Manager, Human Resources

_____________________________
Chair Statewide Human Rights Advocacy Committee