FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2002-16(Elections)1
Date of Issue: June 28, 2002

JUDICIAL CANDIDATE ATTENDING A POLITICAL ORGANIZATION'S FUND RAISER

ISSUES

1. May a judicial candidate attend a fund raiser for an anti-discrimination political organization?

ANSWER: NO

2. Can the Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee render opinions on the constitutionality of enacted laws?

ANSWER: NO

FACTS

A political organization created to "protect [county] residents from discrimination in employment, housing, financing and public accommodations due to race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, sex, pregnancy, age, disability, marital status, and sexual orientation" has invited a judicial candidate to an "open house house/cocktail reception." The invitation states that attendees should bring a donation to the effort and that "all contributions made in response to, or at, this event are contributions to [organization] Political Committee and are not tax-deductible." The inquiring candidate asks whether Canon 7 of the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct proscribes attendance at the event.

DISCUSSION

In JEAC Op. 96-10, this committee addressed a similar situation. In that opinion, a judicial candidate wished to attend a testimonial to a retiring Congressman. The invitation to the testimonial stated that it was a paid political advertisement and there was a minimum donation required for attendance. Based on Canons 7A(1)d, 7A(1)e and 7C(3) the committee stated that the event was "clearly a political fundraiser" and attendance was prohibited.

Canon 7A states, "Except as authorized in Sections 7B(2), 7C(2) and 7C(3), a judge or a candidate for election or appointment to judicial office shall not:

(e) solicit funds for, pay an assessment to or make a contribution to a political organization or candidate, or purchase tickets for political party dinners or other functions. [emphasis added]

In JEAC Op. 91-21, a sitting judge asked whether attendance at a dinner/dance sponsored by a political organization was permitted where the judge would have to make a contribution and the organization's purposes included endorsement of candidates for various offices. The committee stated that attendance at this event would violate Canon 7 because a contribution to a political organization was required and further stated:

Since the group actively backs specific issues and candidates, attendance at such an affair may also be perceived as a public endorsement by the judge of a particular candidate or issue. Finally, the judge's attendance and participation in this event could cause persons to question his or her impartiality.

While the invitation to the event addressed in the current inquiry is not for a political party dinner or function, it nevertheless requires a contribution to a political organization. The invitation makes it clear that all contributions made at the fundraising event will be treated as contributions to a political committee. Canons 7A(1)e therefore prohibits attendance by the inquiring judicial candidate. As mentioned in Opinion 91- 21, attendance at this event may also cause persons to believe the candidate is making a public endorsement or question the impartiality of the candidate.

The purpose of the Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee is to render written advisory opinions to inquiring judges and judicial candidates concerning the propriety of contemplated judicial and non-judicial conduct. See, Petition of the Committee on Standards of Conduct Governing Judges, 698 So. 2d 834 (Fla. 1997). It is not within our mandate to render opinions on the constitutionality of enacted laws.

REFERENCES

Florida Code of Judicial Conduct: Canon 7.

Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinions: 96-10, 91-21.

Petition of the Committee on Standards of Conduct Governing Judges, 698 So. 2d 834 (Fla. 1997).

_____________

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 Scott J. Silverman, Chairman, Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, The Richard E. Gerstein Justice Building, 1351 NW 12th St #712, Miami, FL 33125

Participating Members:
Judge Scott J. Silverman
Judge Jeffrey D. Swartz
Judge Phyllis Kotey
Judge Richard R. Townsend

Copies furnished to:
Chief Justice Peggy Quince
All Committee Members
All Members of the J.Q.C.
The Inquiring Candidate
Ari Gerstin

1. The Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee has appointed an Election Practices Subcommittee. The purposes of this subcommittee is to give immediate responses to campaign questions instances where the normal Committee procedure would not provide a responses 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.