FLORIDA SUPREME COURT
JUDICIAL ETHICS ADVISORY COMMITTEE
Opinion Number: 99-27
Date of Issue: October 26, 1999
WHETHER A JUDGE MAY PARTICIPATE AT A BENCH AND BAR PROFESSIONALISM SEMINAR WHICH IS ADVERTISED BY THE BAR ASSOCIATION AND BY THE LOCAL NEWS MEDIA AS A FUND-RAISING SEMINAR?
Whether a Judge may participate at a Bench and Bar Professionalism Seminar which is advertised by the Bar Association and by the local news media as a fund-raising seminar?ANSWER: No.
The inquiring judge, and other judges in the circuit, have been listed as participating in a local Bar and Bench Professionalism Seminar. This seminar has been advertised by the local Bar Association and in the local newspaper as a fund-raising seminar for the Bar. The local bar association has had recent financial difficulty. The seminar costs $55.00 for a three-hour session.
Canon 4B states that a judge may speak, lecture or participate in other quasi-judicial activities concerning the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice, subject to the requirements of the Code. The Commentary to Canon 4B states that "The phrase 'subject to the requirements of this Code' is included to remind judges that the use of permissive language in various Sections of the Code does not relieve a judge from the other requirements of the Code that apply to the specific conduct." Canon 4D(2)(a) prohibits a judge from personally participating in the solicitation of funds or other fund-raising activities. See also Canon 5C(3)(b)(i). Canon 4D(2)(d) prohibits a judge from using or permitting the use of the prestige of judicial office for fund-raising. See also Canons 5C(3)(b)(iii); 2B. The Commentary to Canon 4D(2) states that, "A judge must not be a speaker or guest of honor at an organization’s fund-raising event, but mere attendance at such an event is permissible if otherwise consistent with this Code." See also Commentary to Canon 5C(3)(b). "Solicitation of funds for an organization ...involve[s] the danger that the person solicited will feel obligated to respond favorably to the solicitor if the solicitor is in a position of influence and control." Commentary to Canon 4D(2).
In Opinion 98-5, this Committee found that mere attendance at a legal educational seminar is neither improper nor does it interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties. However, this Committee noted that the judge's attendance is permissible so long as it "is not a fund-raising event and that his attendance is not used to promote or advertise the seminar." Id. Also, in Opinion 98-31, this Committee found that a judge may maintain membership in a local lawyer's organization, as long as the judge does not personally participate in the solicitation of funds or have his name placed on any letterhead or solicitation letter. The Committee further noted that a judge may attend the fundraising event sponsored by the legal organization to raise funds to support the constitutional amendment, as long as the judge adheres to Canon 4D(2) by not being a speaker or guest of honor. Id.; see also Opinion 98-16 (nor may the judge personally participate in the solicitation of donations from the court personnel and others within the circuit's court system); Opinion 95-22 (a judge should not personally participate as a team member of a bingo game at a local Senior Citizen’s Center as a fundraising project for Kiwanis International.); Opinion 94-33 (a judge should not personally solicit funds or permit the use of the prestige of his or her office to solicit funds; and it is improper for a judge to personally solicit "in kind" contributions for the Domestic Violence Task Force); Opinion 92-38 (a judge is ethically precluded from personally collecting coats and gloves to be distributed to those in need by the Salvation Army).
A judge is not disqualified from being a speaker at a legitimate legal education seminar simply because the event is intended to produce income, or a profit, for the sponsor. If these programs were not able to operate on a sound financial basis, they would cease to be offered. However, the event described by the inquiring judge is a fundraiser, in the Committee’s view, because it was advertised and intended as one.
In summary, the Committee finds that the judges' participation in the local Bar and Bench Professionalism Seminar would be prohibited, under Canon 4D(2), due to the fund-raising character of the event. However, the Committee finds that the judges' mere attendance at the seminar would not be prohibited.
Florida Code of Judicial Conduct Canon 2B; Canon 4B and Commentary; Canon 4D(2) and Commentary; Canon 4D(2)(a); Canon 4D(2)(d); Canon 5C(3)(b)(i); Canon 5C(3)(b)(iii); Commentary to Canon 5C(3)(b).
Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinions: 92-38; 94-33; 95-22; 98-5; 98-16; 98-31.
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 C. McFerrin Smith, III, Chairman, Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, 130 West New York Avenue, DeLand, Florida 32720 .
Participating Members: Judges Cardonne, C. Kahn, L. Kahn, Kotey, Levy, Silverman, Smith, Swartz and Thompson.
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)