FLORIDA SUPREME COURT
JUDICIAL ETHICS ADVISORY COMMITTEE
Opinion Number: 99-20
Date of Issue: August 9, 1999
WHETHER A JUDGE MAY SERVE ON THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS OF A NON-PROFIT CORPORATION CREATED TO PROVIDE PREPAID LEGAL SERVICE PLANS?
WHETHER A JUDGE MAY SERVE ON THE FLORIDA BAR CIVIL PROCEDURE RULES
Whether a judge may serve on the Board of Directors of a Non-Profit Corporation
created to provide prepaid legal service plans?
Whether a judge may serve on The Florida Bar Civil Procedure Rules Committee?
The inquiring judge has recently been appointed to the bench. The judge has been a member of the Board of Directors of Florida Lawyers Legal Insurance Company, and asks whether she can continue as a Board Member once she takes office. The purpose of this non-profit corporation is to provide a vehicle by which Florida residents can participate in a program in which, by prepayment of a certain dollar amount, they can obtain various legal services from members of The Florida Bar who participate in the program. The corporation also carries on educational activities to acquaint the public with their legal rights and responsibilities, the importance of adequate legal counsel and representation, and the availability of prepaid legal service plans as a means of obtaining same.
The inquiring judge also asks whether she can serve on The Florida Bar Civil Procedure Rules Committee, to which she has just been appointed.
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(3) provides that a judge may serve as a director of an organization not conducted for profit. However, both Canons contain the caveat that a judge shall not serve in the organization if to do so would cast reasonable doubt on the judge's capacity to act impartially as a judge. Canon 2A also directs a judge to respect and comply with the law and act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.
In the present inquiry, it is likely that litigants who are provided services under a prepaid legal plan will be engaged in proceedings that would ordinarily come before the inquiring judge. This information may come to the judge's attention in a variety of ways including in a request for attorney fees in a case. There would at least be an appearance of partiality if the inquiring judge were on the board of directors of an organization that provided one side with the means of obtaining legal services by prepayment of a certain dollar amount. Therefore, a judge may not serve on the Board of Directors of Florida Lawyers Legal Insurance Company.
A judge may serve on a committee of The Florida Bar, as a judge may speak, write, lecture, teach and participate in other quasi-judicial activities concerning the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice. Canon 4B. In fact, to the extent that time permits, a judge is encouraged to do so, either independently or through a bar association, judicial conference or other organization dedicated to the improvement of the law. Commentary to Canon 4A. The Committee has previously found that a judge could serve as Chairman-Elect of the Family Law Section of The Florida Bar. See Opinion 84-13. Therefore, the inquiring judge may serve on The Florida Bar Civil Procedure Rules Committee, but should avoid involvement in any activity that might reflect on the judge's impartiality or neutrality as a judge.
Florida Code of Judicial Conduct Canons 2A, 4B, 4D, 5C(3) and Commentary to Canon 4A.
Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinions: 84-13.
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, C. Kahn, L. Kahn, Patterson, Silverman, Smith, Swartz and Attorney Blanton.
Copies furnished to:
Justice Peggy Quince
All Committee Members
All Members of the J.Q.C.
Office of the State Courts Administrator (Name of inquiring judge deleted from this copy)