FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2002-17
Date of Issue: July 10, 2002

JUDGE SERVING AS PRESIDENT OF NON-PROFIT CIVIC ORGANIZATION

ISSUES

1. May a judge assume the presidency of a non-profit civic organization which has as its central focus the providing of cultural events to the citizen's of the county and which benefits the community through various outreach programs.

ANSWER: Yes.

FACTS

A judge has been asked to consider assuming the presidency of an organization named SunFest. SunFest is a non-profit civic organization billed as Florida's largest music, art and waterfront festival. In addition to providing community benefits through various outreach programs SunFest also serves as a tremendous boost to the local economy through the promotion of tourism. An executive director with substantial staff support run the day to day activities of the organization. The president of the organization serves as chairman of the Board of Directors and presides over all meetings. The judge questions whether the Code of Judicial Conduct proscribes assumption of the position of president.

DISCUSSION

The stated objectives of SunFest and the role its president plays in the organization does not preclude a judge's assumption of that position. However, the changing nature of some organizations and of their relationship to the law makes it necessary for a judge to regularly reexamine the activities of organizations with which the judge is affiliated to determine if it is proper for the judge to continue the affiliation. Commentary, Florida Code of Judicial Conduct Canon 5C(3)(a).

Cannon 5C(3) of the Code of Judicial Conduct provides: "A judge may serve as an officer, director, trustee or non-legal advisor of an educational, religious, charitable, fraternal, sororal, or civic organization not conducted for profit." But See JEAC Op. 92-5 (membership in County association of Police Chiefs, a non-profit corporation with membership consisting of high ranking officials from all levels of government would reflect adversely upon impartiality and is prohibited). Nonetheless, Subsection 5C(3)(a) proscribes service by a judge if it is likely that the organization either "will be engaged in proceedings that would ordinarily come before the judge, or will be engaged frequently in adversary proceedings in the court of which the judge is a member or in any court subject to the appellate jurisdiction of the court of which the judge is a member." See JEAC Op. 81-7 (a judge should resign from position on board of directors of a townhouse association because of the volume of condominium litigation and the many adverse interests in that type of an association that have to be represented by the association).

The inquiring judge advised the committee that SunFest is not an organization that has been or is likely to be engaged in proceedings that would ordinarily come before any judge within the respective circuit. In JEAC Opinion 75-26, in response to a similar set of facts, this committee stated, "should the organization become regularly involved in litigation, the judge would have to resign, not only as chairman, but from the organization itself." Clearly, if SunFest became regularly involved in litigation, participation in the organization would not be appropriate.

Similarly, a judge must limit his/her participation in the financial aspects of an organization to minimize the risk of conflict with judicial duties. Subsection C(3)(b) of Canon 5, provides that a judge, serving as an officer or director of a non-profit civic organization, may assist the organization in planning fund-raising and may participate in the management and investment of the organization"s funds, but shall not "permit the use of prestige of judicial office for fundraising" or, "personally participate in the solicitation of funds or other fund-raising activities, except that a judge may solicit funds from other judges over whom the judge does not exercise supervisory or appellate authority." Furthermore, Canon 5 has been interpreted to proscribe a judge from providing investment advice to a civic organization. JEAC Op. 92-21.

While the inquiry indicates that an executive director would manage the day to day activities of SunFest, we caution the inquiring judge to be aware that this committee has previously stated that it may be difficult for a judge to avoid activities which conflict with Canon 5 if the judge has final authority to approve the overall planning of a fund raising campaign. JEAC Op. 75-26.

The assumption of the presidency of SunFest, as represented to us, does not violate Canon 5 of the Code of Judicial Conduct. However, the committee recommends that the judge regulate his activities so as to not conflict or give the appearance of interfering with judicial duties. This may require the delegation of some responsibilities and duties of the office to other officers.

REFERENCES

Florida Code of Judicial Conduct Canon 5(C)(3)

Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinions: 75-26, 81-7, 92-5, 92-21.

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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 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: Judges Davidson, Kahn, Kotey, Rodriquez, Silverman, Smith, Swartz, Townsend and Attorneys Gonzales and Graham

Copies furnished to:
Chief 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)