FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

JUDICIAL ETHICS ADVISORY COMMITTEE

Opinion Number: 00-27 (Election) 1
Date of Issue: August 24, 2000

ISSUES

MAY A JUDICIAL CANDIDATE HAVE AN ADVERTISEMENT FILMED PORTRAYING THE CANDIDATE ADDRESSING A MOCK JURY IN A COURT ROOM AS IF THE CANDIDATE WERE TRYING A CASE?

ANSWER: Yes, so long as the candidate scrupulously complies with the provisions of Canon 7A(3)(d)(iii) of the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct.

FACTS

The inquiring judicial candidate would like to film a campaign advertisement portraying the candidate addressing a mock jury in a courtroom as if the candidate were trying a case. The proposed commercial would not make it appear as if the candidate were a judge. The candidate inquires as to the ethical propriety of this proposed action.

DISCUSSION

This Committee has stated in Committee Opinions 94-35 and 98-27 that it is not in a position to approve or disapprove specific language of individual judicial campaign advertisements. Instead, the Committee makes a practice of providing to candidates the specific ethical provisions which the candidates must then consider. Nevertheless, the Committee has reserved the right to render opinions on specific proposed advertisements when appropriate and at the Committee's discretion.

Pertinent to the present inquiry, Canon 7A(3)(a) provides, in part, "a candidate for judicial office shall maintain the dignity appropriate to judicial office and act in a manner consistent with the integrity and independence of the judiciary." Canon 7A(3)(d)(iii) states, "a candidate for judicial office shall not knowingly misrepresent the identity, qualifications, present position, or other fact concerning the candidate or an opponent." The fact that a candidate proposes to appear in a commercial depicting a courtroom scene does not per se violate Canon 7. Nevertheless, the message portrayed by the commercial, as well as reasonable inferences that can be drawn from the commercial, must be truthful and must provide the public with reliable information concerning the candidate's identity, qualifications, and professional background.

By way of explication, for instance, a candidate could not portray himself or herself trying a jury case, if in fact, the candidate did not have experience trying jury cases. It would also be inappropriate for a candidate to portray himself or herself as if the candidate were trying a particular case or type of case that in fact the candidate had not tried. The mere unscripted portrayal of a candidate in a courtroom with a mock jury would not, however, in and of itself, violate Canon 7. Accordingly, so long as the inquiring judicial candidate complies with all of the criteria set forth in Canon 7, its subsections, and this advisory opinion, the advertisement will be ethically permissible. If the candidate does not, then the advertisement is ethically proscribed.

REFERENCES

Florida Code of Judicial Conduct, Canons 7, 7A(3)(a), and 7A(3)(d)(iii).

Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinions 94-35, 98-27.

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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.