FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

JUDICIAL ETHICS ADVISORY COMMITTEE

Opinion Number: 2000-20
Date of Issue: September 22, 2000

WHETHER A JUDGE MAY ATTEND A BAR LUNCHEON, SPONSORED BY LAW FIRMS AND PARTIES LIKELY TO COME BEFORE THE JUDGE'S COURT, WHERE ATTENDANCE FEES FOR THE JUDICIARY ARE WAIVED?

ISSUE

Whether a judge may attend a bar luncheon, sponsored by law firms and parties likely to come before the judge's court, where attendance fees for the judiciary are waived?
ANSWER: Yes.

FACTS

The inquiring judge asks whether it is ethical for a judge to attend bar functions, for no charge, that are sponsored by law firms, lawyer's groups, and other parties likely to come before the judge. The inquiring judge specifically cites this committee's Opinion Number 2000-08 as a basis for clarification of the issue.

DISCUSSION

Canon 5 provides that "A Judge Shall Regulate Extrajudicial Activities to Minimize the Risk of Conflict With Judicial Duties." Further, the commentary to Canon 5D(5)(a) states that acceptance of an invitation to a law-related function, and of an invitation paid for by an individual lawyer or group of lawyers is governed by Canon 5D(5)(h).

Canon 5D(5)(h) provides,

5) A judge shall not accept, and shall urge members of a 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:
* * *
(h) any other gift, bequest, favor or loan, only if: the donor is not a party or other person who has come or is likely to come or whose interests have come or are likely to come before the judge; and, if its value exceeds $100.00, the judge reports it in the same manner as the judge reports compensation in Section 6B.

Furthermore, the commentary on Canon 4B provides:

Canon 4B. As a judicial officer and person specially learned in the law, a judge is in the a unique position to contribute to the improvement of the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice. 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.

According to the Code of Judicial Conduct a judge is permitted and moreover encouraged to attend functions, bar-related and non-bar-related, devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system or the administration of justice. If the value of the function exceeds $100.00, it must be reported under the requirements of Cannon 6.

The inquiring judge cites Opinion Number 2000-08 as a basis for his inquiry. Opinion 2000-08 deals with an issue which is fundamentally different from the one addressed here. Opinion 2000-08 addresses the issue of judges accepting gifts, including money and redeemable gift certificates from lawyers, vendors and other third parties. According to Canon 5 a judge is prohibited from accepting such gifts.

Within the language of Canon 5 an implicit distinction is made between a gift as discussed in Opinion 2000-08 and the waiving of fees for bar-related functions. This Committee believes that no conceivable threat to a judges impartiality could stem from the judge's acceptance of an invitation to a bar-related function where fees for the judiciary are waived.

In Opinion 2000-14, the Committee found that a judge could attend luncheons, receptions and social events sponsored by "aligned" bar associations. The Committee held that, "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 Opinion 84-4, the Committee found that a judge could accept free membership in a bar association without violating the Code of Judicial Conduct. One member of this Committee opined,

"If a Bar Association is inclined to waive dues requirements and charges for luncheons, etc., I see no reason why a judge should be prohibited from accepting the Bar Association's generosity."

Therefore, the Code of Judicial Conduct does not prohibit a judge from attending law-related functions where fees are waived for the judiciary. Moreover, judges are permitted and encouraged to attend functions devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system or the administration of justice.

REFERENCES

Florida Code of Judicial Conduct Canons 4, 4B, 5, 5D(5)(a), 5(D)(5)(h), and 6.

Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinions: 2000-08, 2000-14, and 84-4.

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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, Kotey, D. Levy, Silverman, Smith, Swartz and Thompson.

Copies furnished to:
Justice Charles T. Wells
All Committee Members
All Members of the J.Q.C.
Office of the State Courts Administrator (Name of inquiring judge deleted from this copy)