FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

JUDICIAL ETHICS ADVISORY COMMITTEE

Opinion Number: 2000-14
Date of Issue: July 21, 2000

1. WHETHER JUDGES MAY ATTEND LUNCHEONS, RECEPTIONS AND SOCIAL EVENTS THAT ARE SPONSORED BY BAR ASSOCIATIONS OF EITHER PLAINTIFF'S OR DEFENSE LAWYERS?

2. WHETHER A JUDGE MAY SPEAK AT A LUNCHEON OF A PLAINTIFF'S OR DEFENSE LAWYER'S GROUP ON A LAW-RELATED OR TRIAL-LAW-RELATED SUBJECT FOR THE EDIFICATION OF THE MEMBERS OF THE PLAINTIFF'S BAR ASSOCIATION OR DEFENSE BAR ASSOCIATION?

ISSUES

1. Whether judges may attend luncheons, receptions and social events that are sponsored by bar associations of either plaintiff's or defense lawyers?

2. Whether a judge may speak at a luncheon of a plaintiff's or defense lawyer's group on a law-related or trial-law-related subject for the edification of the members of the plaintiff's bar association or defense bar association?

ANSWER: Yes.

FACTS

The inquiring judge asks whether a sitting judge may attend functions of "aligned" bar associations such as the meetings of the Dade County Trial Lawyer's Association and the Academy of Florida Trial Lawyers (plaintiff's groups) or the Dade County Defense Bar Association or the Florida Defense Lawyers Association (defense lawyers).

These groups have luncheons, annual dances and judicial receptions to which judges receive complimentary invitations.

The inquiring judge asks whether judges may attend such functions.

DISCUSSION

Canon 5 specifies that a judge shall regulate extrajudicial activities to minimize the risk of conflict with judicial duties. Canon 5D(5)(a), according to the Commentary on Canon 5, governs acceptance of an invitation to a law-related function. Acceptance of an invitation paid for by an individual lawyer or group of lawyers is governed by 5(D)(5)(h). Those subsections provide:

5)   A judge shall not accept, and shall urge members of a judge's family residing in the judge's household not to accept, a gift, bequest, favor or loan from anyone except for;

    (a) a gift incident to a public testimonial, books, tapes and other resource materials supplied by publishers on a complimentary basis for official use, or an invitation to the judge and the judge's spouse or guest to attend a bar-related function or an activity devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system or the administration of justice:

* * *

In Opinion 95-21, the Committee noted that the Academy of Florida Trial Lawyers is an organization devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system and the administration of justice. In Opinion 87-3, the Committee found no prohibition in the Canons of Judicial Conduct that would preclude a judge from participation in a seminar sponsored by the Academy of Florida Trial Lawyers and the University of West Florida.

Thus, if the function to which the judiciary are invited is devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system or the administration of justice, a judge may attend the function. In addition, a judge may speak at a luncheon of a plaintiff's or defense lawyer's group on a law-related or trial-law-related subject for the edification of the members of the plaintiff's bar association or defense bar association.

REFERENCES

Florida Code of Judicial Conduct Canons 5, 5D(5)(a), and 5(D)(5)(h).

Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinions: 95-21, and 87-3.

_____________

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, 130 West New York Avenue, DeLand, Florida, 32720.

Participating Members: Graham, Attorney at Law and Judges Cardonne, C. Kahn, L. Kahn, Levy, Silverman, Smith, Swartz, Thompson and Townsend.

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)