FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

JUDICIAL ETHICS ADVISORY COMMITTEE

Opinion Number: 2000-05
Date of Issue: February 11, 2000

WHETHER A CHIEF JUDGE, AS A MEMBER OF A TASK FORCE CREATED UNDER THE AUSPICES OF THE CHIEF JUDGE, MAY WRITE AN INTRODUCTION AND HISTORY OF THE TASK FORCE FOR AN INFORMATIONAL BROCHURE EXPLAINING THE TASK FORCE AND GANGS IN GENERAL?

WHETHER A CHIEF JUDGE MAY WRITE THE ABOVE COMMENTS WHEN THE BROCHURE WILL ALSO CONTAIN COMMENTS FROM THE SHERIFF?

ISSUE

Whether a chief judge, as a member of a task force created under the auspices of the chief judge, may write an introduction and history of the task force for an informational brochure explaining the task force and gangs in general?
ANSWER: Yes.

Whether a chief judge may write the above comments when the brochure will also contain comments from the sheriff?
ANSWER: Yes.

FACTS

The inquiring judge is a member of a task force established under the auspices of the Chief Judge for the purpose of identifying youth gang activities, making recommendations to community agencies, and developing a program for the dissemination of information to the community with particular emphasis on parents of pre- teen and teenage children. The task force was created after a special grand jury was convened to make factual findings and recommendations regarding what appeared to be an emerging youth gang situation within the circuit. The task force has been a source of information to the community. The leadership of the task force has requested that the Chief Judge write a brief history of the task force to be included in an informational brochure which is proposed to be distributed to the parents of each middle school age child in the surrounding counties.1 The Sheriff has also been asked to provide a few comments.2 The inquiring judge asks whether it is ethically permissible for the judge to write an introduction and history of the youth gang task force to be contained within the brochure, considering the extent of its distribution and that the fact that the Sheriff will also be commenting in the same brochure. If not, the judge asks whether it would be ethically permissible for the judge to write an introduction and history if the Sheriff elects not to include comments.

DISCUSSION

The purpose of the task force is to study gang related activities in the community and make appropriate recommendations regarding education of the public. The task force is comprised of individuals representing leadership in law enforcement, the judiciary, government, education and the non- profit and private sectors of the community.

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 councils, see Opinions 88-24 and 88-30, on the board of directors of a DUI countermeasure school, see Opinion 93-23, in an advisory capacity on the regional juvenile detention center's community advisory board, see Opinion 94-04, as a member of a district juvenile justice board, see Opinion 94-31, and as a member of the Victim's Assistance Advisory Council, see Opinion 98-26. The task force on gang related activities falls within the appropriate bounds of Canons 4D and 5C(2).

In Opinion 99-12, the Committee found that a dependency judge, who was a member of a task force created to assist and facilitate the implementation of recent legislation, could sign a resolution of the task force which reflected the task force's finding. The Committee noted, "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." The task force in 99-12 also included the Sheriff.

The Committee has approved letters of recognition or praise as long as the letter would not be used in a commercial context or in fund-raising for an organization. In Opinion 99-5, the Committee found that a judge could write an unsolicited letter of commendation to a newspaper to recognize social service organizations for providing social services to persons appearing before the judge. In Opinion 94-25, the Committee approved the publication of an article by a judge commending the efforts of local officials who cooperated in handling a particularly sensitive trial. Therefore, the Committee finds the judge may include his comments along with the Sheriff's. The brochure in the present inquiry is informational, and has short sections explaining the following: what is a gang, warning signs of gang activity, graffiti and tattoos used to identify gangs, how to keep gangs out of your community, parent awareness and myths about gangs. The Committee finds that nothing in the judge's comments for the brochure would be contrary to the Canons.

REFERENCES

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

Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinions: 88-24, 88-30, 93- 23, 94-04, 94-25, 94-31, 98-26, 99-5, and 99-12.

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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 C. McFerrin Smith, III, Chair, Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, DeLand Jail Building, 130 West New York Avenue, DeLand, Florida, 32720.

Participating Members: Judges C. Kahn, L. Kahn, Levy, Rodriguez, Silverman, Smith, 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)

1AN OPEN LETTER TO THE CITIZENS, REPRESENTATIVES AND LEADERSHIP OF THE __________COMMUNITY

During its Spring 1995 term, the Grand Jury focused its attention on what appeared to be the emergence of gang related activity in our community and in so doing requested that I establish a task force to study the situation and make appropriate recommendations. On May 15, 1996, the Chief Judge's Task Force on Youth Gangs officially convened. Its membership was comprised of individuals representing leadership in law enforcement, the judiciary, government, education and the non-profit and private sectors of our community.

The task force was charged with developing a comprehensive report on youth gang activity with a view toward making recommendations regarding education of the public.

Without the efforts of the task force members and others in our community who are dedicated to making and counties a safe environment within which to reside and raise our children, our quality of life would most certainly be significantly diminished. I commend each and all participants on a job well done.

/ Chief Judge

2 This booklet contains the necessary information for parents or guardians to make determinations regarding the behavior of a child from elementary age to young adulthood. It is simplistic and easy to comprehend and also easy to use as guidelines for evaluation of behavior. There are other "layers" of assistance if the problems become more complex as there are available professionals to assist in specific areas. The Sheriff's Office will maintain a current analysis of the problems and any thing that affects our youth in a negative form will have a high priority and will receive the resources to stop or prevent the spread of harmful elements regarding our youth.

We must keep in mind the majority of your youth are law abiding and follow the standard of our society. These must be protected from negative influences using all the tools at our disposal. Parents and those who influence our youth woe them the protection that is available as they are battered daily with negative suggestions coming from many directions.

Your Sheriff's Office will be diligent in gathering intelligence on gangs and gang activity and will react without hesitation to all that is possible to discourage the presence of gangs in our community.

/ Sheriff