FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

JUDICIAL ETHICS ADVISORY COMMITTEE

Opinion Number: 2001-10
Date of Issue: May 21, 2001

ISSUES

MAY A JUDGE WHO HAS BEEN ASSIGNED TO A SATELLITE COURTHOUSE IN THE JUDGE'S COUNTY FOR A NUMBER OF YEARS, AND IS DUE TO BE REASSIGNED TO THE MAIN COURTHOUSE, ACCEPT A GIFT FROM THE BAR ASSOCIATION IN APPRECIATION OF YEARS SPENT PRESIDING AT THE SATELLITE COURTHOUSE?

ANSWER: Yes, and such gift must be reported pursuant to Canon 5D(5)(h).

FACTS

A local bar association within the inquiring judge's county has expressed interest in presenting the judge with a gift of a gun cabinet. The judge has been assigned to a satellite courthouse in the county for a number of years and will soon be reassigned to the main courthouse. The local bar association would like to present the gun cabinet to the judge in appreciation of years spent presiding over court at the satellite courthouse. The estimated cost of the gun cabinet exceeds the reporting threshold of Canon 5D(5)(h).

DISCUSSION

Although Canon 5 of the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct has a general prohibition concerning acceptance of gifts by a judge, the Canon also has a number of exceptions. See Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 5D(5)(a)-(h). Pertinent to the present inquiry, a judge is not precluded from accepting a gift incident to a public testimonial. Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 5D(5)(a). The judge is also not precluded from accepting any other gift 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." Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 5D(5)(h).

Under Canon 5D, the former law firm of a new judge may sponsor and pay the expenses for a reception for the new judge immediately after the judge's investiture. See Fla. JEAC Op. 99-3. A former employer may present an ascending judge with a gift to commemorate the judge's ascension to the bench. See Fla. JEAC Op. 76-22. A retiring judge may accept gift certificates valued at $500 from anonymous donors in the Jacksonville Women Lawyers Association in honor of the judge's retirement. See Fla. JEAC Op. 94-12. Judges and court employees may not, however, accept gifts from individual lawyers, vendors, or other third parties when the interest of the donors of such gifts are likely to come before the court. See Fla. JEAC Op. 00-08.

In the present inquiry, the gift would be from the bar association as an entity, and not from individual lawyers, clients, or others whose interests could potentially come before the judge. A gift by the bar association under these circumstances, and in recognition of the judge's service at the satellite courthouse, is permissible under the Code of Judicial Conduct. Because the intended gift exceeds the threshold established by Canon 5D(5)(h), the judge must report the gift in the manner provided by Canon 6.

REFERENCES

Code of Judicial Conduct: Canon 5, 5D(5)(a)-(h), 6.

Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinions: 00-08, 99-3, 94-12, 76-22.

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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, Esquire

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)