Opinions of the Judicial Ethics
Advisory Committee



Letters



Canons
Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 2B, Commentary Although a judge should be sensitive to possible abuse of the prestige of office, a judge MAY, based on the judge’s personal knowledge, serve as a reference or provide a letter of recommendation.
Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 2B, Commentary Ajudge must not initiate the communication of information to a sentencing judge or a probation or corrections officer but may provide to such persons information for the record in response to a formal request.
Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 2B, Commentary “[J]udicial letterhead must not be used for conducting a judge’s personal business.”
Opinions
Recommendations
JEAC Opinion Number
Subject
Judge may not write a letter of recommendation for a friend’s application to the Department of Business and Professional Regulation for a real estate license, where the friend has a prior misdemeanor arrest and the purpose of the letter is to serve as additional information attesting to the friend’s honesty and good character and reputation. The matter concerns an investigatory proceeding of an administrative nature where the privilege of obtaining a professional license is ultimately determined. 2, 2B, Commentary to 2B.
Judge, as chair of the local Juvenile Justice County Council and the local Children’s Services Council, may write a letter on judicial letterhead in support of a district school board’s federal grant application when a portion of the grant funds will be used by the school board to fund a delinquency prevention program being developed by the two councils, as long as (1) the grant funds will be used solely for programs that concern the law, the legal system and the administration of justice; (2) the programs do not cast doubt on the judge’s impartiality; and (3) the judge discloses the judge’s role in writing the support letter in all cases before the judge that involve issues or persons associated with programs funded by the grant. Commentary to 3E(1), 4A(1), 4B, 4D(2)(c), 5A(1).
A judge may not write a letter of recommendation or commendation on behalf of a person previously convicted of a felony who is seeking a pardon from the Governor because it appears to lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the petitioner and it appears to be written testimony as to character.  1 and 2B.
Judge may write letter of recommendation based on his or her personal knowledge for former staff attorney applying for law school fellowship.  2B and Commentary.
Judge may provide the Department of Elderly Affairs with a letter setting forth the judge’s succinct factual observations regarding a guardian’s competency as a professional guardian pursuant to §744.1085(8), Florida Statutes. 2B.
Judge may not write letter to grant provider encouraging funding of a non-profit group that provides domestic violence victims with criminal and civil advocates because such a letter could cast reasonable doubt on the judge’s ability to act impartially. 4A and 4D(2)(b).
2001-01
Recedes from JEAC Opinion 79-06
Judge may not endorse a candidate for the Florida Bar Board of Governors. 2B, 4A
Judge may not submit letters to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) nominating two judges to receive an honor for “making our streets and highways safer” because such letters would involve using the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of MADD. 2B, 4A(1), and 4D(2)(d).
Judge may write recommendation letter based on judge’s actual knowledge and personal observation of individual’s relevant credentials. 2B
Judge may recommend friend’s son for entrance to law school. 2B
Judge may write letter to U.S. JAG Corps to advise them as to character and qualifications of an attorney in judge’s circuit. 2B
Judge may write character reference letter on behalf of person applying for a job, when judge has contact with person in official capacity. 2B
Complimentary Letters
Newly-appointed judge may not assent to either the publication of a congratulatory announcement by the judge's former law firm or the firm's mailing of a congratulatory announcement to its clients because such assent would involve lending the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the firm. 2B
Judge may write letters of commendation on judicial letterhead to clerk’s supervisor regarding clerk’s quality of work and to a law school dean praising professor’s work as long as judge has personally observed each individual’s relevant credentials and the persons are not involved in investigatory or adjudicatory proceedings. 2B
Judicial Nomination Process
Traffic hearing officer may write letter to judicial nominating committee in support of an applicant as long as the letter is limited to succinct, factual statements or observations concerning the candidate’s qualifications. 2B and 7
1996-23
Recedes from JEAC Opinion 95-24
Code of Judicial Conduct does not preclude a judge from suggesting or encouraging judicial nominating commission application, as long as the judge does not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance private interests.  (Receded from Op. 1995-24; Judges may communicate in writing with the Judicial Nominating Committee with succinct, factual statements or observations concerning the qualifications of applicants, but a judge may not solicit or encourage bar members to apply to the JNC).
1995-24
receded from in Op. 96-23
Judges may communicate in writing with the Judicial Nominating Committee with succinct, factual statements or observations concerning the qualifications of applicants, but a judge may not solicit or encourage bar members to apply to the JNC. 2B (receded from in Op. 96-23; Judge may suggest or encourage JNC application so long as the judge does not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance private interests.)
Sitting judge may not actively solicit support and engage in other activities on behalf of an applicant to a vacant judicial position, including asking community leaders, lawyers and others to write letters of support and encouraging other lawyers to seek a vacant judicial position. 7A(1)(b)
Judge may send an unsolicited letter to the Judicial Nominating Committee regarding a candidate seeking appointment to a judicial position as long as the communication is factual, succinct, and discreet. See also Fla. Jud. Ethics Advisory Comm. Op. 1986-02 & 2003-09. 2,4,7
Judge may ethically communicate with the Governor concerning a person whose nomination for judicial office is pending as long as the judge is imparting factual, even­handed information based on personal knowledge. 2B, 7
Investigatory or Adjudicatory Proceedings
Judge may not write a letter of recommendation for a friend’s application to the Department of Business and Professional Regulation for a real estate license, where the friend has a prior misdemeanor arrest and the purpose of the letter is to serve as additional information attesting to the friend’s honesty and good character and reputation. The matter concerns an investigatory proceeding of an administrative nature where the privilege of obtaining a professional license is ultimately determined. 2, 2B, Commentary to 2B.
Judge is not required to use the detailed fax transmittal form of the Department of Children and Family Services in order to comply with a judge’s statutory responsibility to report suspected child abuse because the relevant statutes do not require such use. Further, the detail necessary to complete the form would require the judge to undertake an adversarial investigation that could lead to the judge’s acquiring knowledge that would require disqualification. §39.201 Fla. Stat. (1999); §39.301 Fla. Stat. (1999).
Judge may not write letters on behalf of persons involved in investigatory or adjudicatory proceedings where legal rights, duties, privileges, or immunities are ultimately decided. 2B
Sentencing Proceedings
A judge may not, in a case involving a relative of the requesting judge’s friend, write a letter to another judge to advocate a drug program or testify before that other judge to explain the drug program that can be used as an alternative to incarceration because these actions would permit the judge’s social relationship to influence the judge’s conduct, lend the prestige to judicial office for the advancement of private interests, impair the confidence of the public in the integrity of the judicial system, and cause the judge to voluntarily testify as a character witness.  1, 2A, 2B, 3B(7), 3B(9), 4A, and 4C.
Judges are prohibited from initiating communication of information to a sentencing judge, probation officer, or corrections officer. 7(C)(2)
 
In re Fogan, 646 So. 2d 191 (Fla. 1994) reprimanding Judge for writing a character reference letter on official court stationery for personal friend to be sentenced in federal court.
 
In re Able, 632 So. 2d 600 (Fla. 1994) Publicly reprimanding judge for voluntarily sending letter on judicial letterhead as a character witness and reference on behalf of criminal defendant to sentencing court.
Clemency
Chief Judge of a circuit may respond in writing to applications for clemency filed by convicted defendants with the Office of Executive Clemency or to requests from the Florida Parole Commission for written objections to parole release for specific inmates when the Chief Judge does not have personal knowledge of the cases as long as the Chief Judge makes clear that the recommendation is based solely upon a review of the court file. 2
Judge may not submit a letter of reference and support on behalf of a former client to be used in an application for clemency in response to a lawyer’s informal request.) 1, 2
Parole and Probation
Judge may not voluntarily write a letter to Parole and Probation Commission, identifying self as a county judge, and recommending inmate for parole. 2B
Judge who had known particular attorney may furnish information to a Parole and Probation officer for sentencing purposes pursuant to a request from the Probation and Parole Office. 2B
Attorney Disciplinary Matters
Judge may not prepare an affidavit of good character, even pursuant to a subpoena duces tecum without deposition, on behalf of a lawyer pending disciplinary action with the Florida Bar. 2B, 3D
Judge may not voluntarily write a letter of recommendation on behalf of disbarred attorney who is seeking re-admission to the Bar. However, Judge may respond to an unsolicited questionnaire received from the Florida Board of Bar Examiners in connection with the disbarred attorney’s attempt to gain re-admission to the Bar. 2B
Judge may not write a letter of recommendation to the Clemency Board and the Board of Bar Examiners on behalf of an individual seeking a pardon and admission to the Bar Exam. 2B
Personal Matters
Judge seeking re-election must disclose to counsel and parties in all cases when an attorney who is on the judge’s fund-raising committee appears in a proceeding before the judge. Mere contribution to or assistance with the judge’s campaign does not require automatic recusal. Disclosure need be made only in cases where some action by the judge is required. Disclosure may be made using official letterhead at public expense because it is for the benefit of litigants and integrity of the judicial system rather than for the judge’s personal benefit. 3E(1), 7C(1).
Judge may not use judicial letterhead for personal business such as complaining to the appropriate state offices regarding problems the judge was having with the State Employees Health Insurance Plan. 2B
Judge may not use judicial letterhead for sending thank you notes to campaign contributors because running for office is a personal endeavor. 2B
Judge may not use personal stationery, which identifies the judge’s official position, in making complaints to various businesses, e.g. automobile dealer regarding the recent purchase of automobile and to a utility company. 5C