FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

JUDICIAL ETHICS ADVISORY COMMITTEE

Opinion Number: 00-24 (Election) 1
Date of Issue: August 24, 2000

ISSUES

WHETHER A JUDICIAL CANDIDATE WHO HAS SERVED AS A CIVIL TRAFFIC HEARING OFFICER, A PARKING TICKET COURT HEARING OFFICER, AND A SPECIAL MASTER FOR JUVENILE SMOKING COURT AND ANIMAL CONTROL VIOLATIONS MAY USE THE PHRASE "QUASI-JUDICIAL EXPERIENCE" IN HIS CAMPAIGN LITERATURE.

ANSWER: Yes, so long as the phrase is clarified by referring specifically to the actual positions held by the candidate.

FACTS

A circuit court candidate has six and one-half years' experience as a civil traffic officer, a parking ticket court hearing officer, and a special master for juvenile smoking court and animal control violations, having been appointed by the chief judge of the circuit. The candidate took a leave of absence in October 1999 to run for a circuit court seat. The candidate would now like to use the phrase "quasi-judicial experience" when describing these earlier positions. He believes that by using the phrase "quasi-judicial experience," he is accurately describing his experience in the courtroom as a civil traffic hearing officer while at the time making it clear to the public that he was not an actual judge.

DISCUSSION

Under the dictates of Canon 7 of the Code of Judicial Conduct, a candidate for judicial office shall not knowingly misrepresent the identity, qualifications, present position, or other facts concerning the candidate. See Canon 7A(3)(d)(iii). This portion of the Code of Judicial Conduct would apparently be violated by a candidate's claim "to have circuit judicial experience," when in fact the candidate's prior service was that of a general master. See In re. Alley, 699 So. 2d 1369 (Fla. 1997). A claim of quasi-judicial experience, however, is somewhat different from a general claim of circuit judicial experience.

Specifically, and as the candidate points out in his inquiry, the judicial article of the Florida Constitution provides that the Legislature may establish a civil traffic hearing officer system for the purpose of hearing civil traffic infractions. See Art. V,§ 1, Fla. Const. The candidate also points out that Black's Law Dictionary describes "quasi-judicial" as "[a] term applied to the action, discretion, etc., of public administrative officers or bodies, who are required to investigate facts, or ascertain the existence of facts, hold hearings, and draw conclusions from them, as a basis for their official action, and to exercise discretion of a judicial nature."

Accordingly, the Committee believes the phrase "quasi-judicial experience" is not necessarily an inaccurate claim, comparable to that made in Alley. Nevertheless, the Committee believes the phrase "quasi-judicial experience" is subject to being misinterpreted by the general public. The actual job description, i.e. "civil traffic court hearing officer," is more accurate and adequately describes the candidate's service. The more accurate description is not then left open to interpretation. Accordingly, the Committee concludes that the candidate may refer to quasi-judicial experience, but in each instance, must note the actual job title. Simple use of the phrase "quasi-judicial experience," without specific qualification, could easily mislead or confuse the voting public, as in Alley.

REFERENCES

Article V, Section 1, Florida Constitution

In re. Alley, 699 So. 2d 1369 (Fla. 1997)

Canon 7, Canon 7A(3)(d)(iii).

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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 Judge Charles J. Kahn, Jr., Chairman, Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, 301 Martin Luther King, Jr., Blvd., Tallahassee, FL 32399-1850

Participating Members:
Judge Charles J. Kahn, Jr.
Judge Lisa D. Kahn
Judge Phyllis D. Kotey
Judge Scott J. Silverman

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)

1The Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee has appointed an Election Practices Subcommittee. The purpose of this subcommittee is to give immediate responses to campaign questions in instances where the normal Committee procedure would not provide a response in time to be useful to the inquiring candidate or judge. Opinions designated with the "(Election)" notation are opinions of the Election Practices Subcommittee of the Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, and have the same authority as an opinion of the whole Committee.