FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

JUDICIAL ETHICS ADVISORY COMMITTEE

Opinion Number: 99-14
Date of Issue: May 4, 1999

WHETHER A JUDGE MAY WRITE A MONTHLY NEWSPAPER COLUMN ON THE JUDICIAL SYSTEM?

ISSUE

Whether a judge may write a monthly newspaper column on the judicial system?

ANSWER: Yes.
FACTS

The inquiring judge has been asked by a local newspaper to write a short monthly column on the judicial system in his county. He states that the column would contribute to the improvement of the legal system and the administration of justice. He asks whether it would be a violation of the Code of Ethics to write the column.

DISCUSSION

The Canons allow a judge to "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." Canon 4B. The Commentary to 4B notes that, "As a judicial officer and person specially learned in the law, 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 Committee has previously approved a judge writing a newspaper column. In Opinion 95-37, the inquiring judge asked whether he could write a biweekly column concerning the issue of attorney's fees which would be published in the Daily Business Review. The Daily Business Review circulated in Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties and had a readership of over 10,000 people, 40% of whom were attorneys. The purpose of the judge's articles was to "analyze recent Florida appellate and Supreme Court decisions in the attorney's fees area and to educate the readers." The Committee found the proposed activity was permitted under Canon 4 as it was an activity to improve the law, the legal system and the administration of justice. The Committee added the caveat that the judge "should refrain from stating how you would rule on a related question", and that the judge be careful as to 'how you "offer suggestions as to how to remedy these problems" cause by appellate or Florida Supreme Court decisions so that you do not seem to case doubt on your impartiality.' Opinion 77-21 also approved a judge "writing a purely informational column concerning the function of a county court judge, ways of improving the administration of civil and criminal justice in county court, in a local weekly newspaper of limited circulation, upon a regular or occasional basis."

A judge's commercial writing in general has been approved by Opinion 76-17 (Judge could write procedural manual for publication and sale); Opinion 78-12 (Judge could co-author a procedural manual with a lawyer, the manual to be published and sold by a commercial publisher with royalties or compensation to the authors); and Opinion 82-05 (Judge could privately publish a book, the purpose of which is to teach parents to teach their children the consequences of crime).

A majority of the Committee finds the inquiring judge may write the column for the local newspaper regarding the county's court system, as this would contribute to the improvement of the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice. However, the Committee would caution the judge he should not intimate how he would rule on matters that may come before him or upon matters pending before any court. See Opinion 81-12.

One of the responding Committee members disagreed with this position stating that in all likelihood the inquiring judge will end up commenting on matters before the Court and be placed in a very difficult position.

REFERENCES

Florida Code of Judicial Conduct Canon 4B and Commentary to Canon 4B.

Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinions: 76-17, 77-21, 78-12, 81-12, 82-05 and 95-37.

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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 Cardonne, Dell, L. Kahn, Patterson, Rodriquez, Rushing, Silverman, 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)