FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

JUDICIAL ETHICS ADVISORY COMMITTEE

Opinion Number: 00-38
Date of Issue: November 30, 2000

ISSUES

MAY A PART-TIME TRAFFIC MAGISTRATE WHO PRESIDES IN TRAFFIC COURT IN ONE COUNTY, REPRESENT CLIENTS CHARGED WITH TRAFFIC-RELATED FELONIES IN THE COUNTY IN WHICH HE PRESIDES, AND AN ADJOINING COUNTY IN THE SAME JUDICIAL CIRCUIT.

ANSWER: No.

FACTS

The inquirer has recently been selected as a part-time traffic magistrate. He will preside over traffic cases in one county. He has now been retained to represent a client in a criminal case arising out of a traffic-related death in a county that adjoins a county in which he will preside. The client has now been charged with DUI manslaughter and leaving the scene of an accident with death in the adjoining county and has also been charged with aggravated fleeing and alluding, aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer, and reckless driving, in circuit court in the county where the inquiring part-time magistrate presides.

DISCUSSION

In Opinion 92-48, this Committee determined that a part-time traffic magistrate could not ethically represent defendants charged with DUI, even though DUI is a criminal matter, and not, technically speaking, a traffic court matter. This Committee adhered to that decision in Opinions 93-26 and 93-36. In Opinion 97-23, this Committee concluded that a part-time magistrate could not handle traffic cases in an adjoining county, even though the adjoining county is in a different circuit.

The Committee acknowledges that the present inquiry involves representing defendants in criminal traffic matters that have been filed in circuit court, rather than county court. The Code of Judicial Conduct, under that Applications section A(2), provides "a traffic magistrate should not practice law in the civil or criminal traffic court in any county in which the magistrate presides." This Committee concludes that the inquiring magistrate should not handle criminal traffic matters, even though such matters have been filed in circuit court rather than county court.

REFERENCES

Florida Code of Judicial Conduct, Canons, Application A(2).

Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinions: 97-23, 93-36, 93-26, and 92-48.

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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 Gisela Cardonne
Judge Lisa D. Kahn
Judge Phyllis D. Kotey
Judge David Levy
Judge Scott J. Silverman
Judge C. McFerrin Smith, III
Judge Jeffrey D. Swartz
Judge Emerson Thompson
Judge Richard R. Townsend
Marjorie Gadarian Graham

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)