FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2003-01
Date of Issue: April 4, 2003

JUDGE SERVING IN LEADERSHIP CAPACITY OF A COMMUNITY-BASED NONPROFIT ORGANIZATION.

ISSUES

May a judge, under the aegis of a nonprofit organization, serve in a leadership capacity to implement nonpartisan, citizen-developed recommendations to improve the community's quality of life by improving race relations?

ANSWER: Yes.

FACTS

The inquiring judge has been asked by the leadership of a community-based, nonprofit organization to serve as implementation chair in connection with a study regarding race relations. The judge writes that the organization is a nonpartisan, broadly based civic organization which seeks to improve the quality of life in the judge's community. Its mission is pursued through informed participation of citizens in open dialogue, impartial research, and consensus building.

The judge served as co-chair of the race relations study committee. The committee held community meetings to research and identify racial issues and to develop community-based solutions. The judge determined that participation in the study phase was consistent with the Code of Judicial Conduct. The judge notes that as chair of the implementing committee, the judge will not be involved in fund raising. Further, the judge does not expect to be disqualified from cases because the organization rarely appears in court. However, the judge is concerned that chairing the implementation committee may violate the Code of Judicial Conduct.

DISCUSSION

The inquiry is governed by Canon 5C(3) which reads:

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, subject to the following limitations and the other requirements of this Code. (Emphasis supplied).

It is acceptable for judges to be involved in community activities by serving as officers and directors of nonprofit and civic organizations. The Florida Supreme Court's commentary to Canon 5 of the Code of Judicial Conduct states that "a judge should not become isolated from the community in which the judge lives." Although judges can be involved in civic organizations, there are areas which present problems for judges. By avoiding or eliminating these problems, a judge will not violate the letter or spirit of the code.

Specifically, a judge may not be directly involved in fund-raising, or lend the prestige of his office to fund-raising activities. See Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 5C(3)(b)(I). In Judicial Ethics Advisory Opinion 2001-09, we stated that a judge could serve on the board of directors of a Rotary International Club and even serve as president of the club as long as the judge "hand[ed] the gavel to another officer" when fund-raising was discussed and did not become involved in active fund-raising. However, the judge could participate as a worker in the fund-raising activity. In this case, the judge will not be engaged in fund raising.

A judge may not be involved in a civic organization which frequently appears in court. Canon 5B(a), Florida Code of Judicial Conduct provides that "A judge shall not serve as an officer, director, trustee or non-legal advisor if it is likely that the organization (I) will be engaged in proceedings that would ordinarily come before the judge . . . " The judge stated that the nonprofit civic organization had not appeared in court, so there is a small possibility that it ever would.

Canon 5A, Florida Code of Judicial Conduct, provides that a judge shall conduct all extrajudicial activities so that they do not:

(1) cast reasonable doubt on the judge's capacity to act impartially as a judge: (2) demean the judicial office; or (3) interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties.

In Judicial Ethics Advisory Opinion 2001-13, we stated that a judge could belong to a lobbying group as long as the judge remained a mere member and did not become directly involved in lobbying. In this case, the inquiring judge has stated that there are no lobbying duties associated with the position and the judge does not intend to lobby any legislative or elective bodies on behalf of the organization.

Since the judge does not plan to be involved in fund-raising or lobbying, and since there is little possibility that the civic organization will appear in court, it is not a violation Canon 5 of the Code of Judicial Conduct for the judge to serve as chair of the implementing committee. If it appears that the duties as chair requires the judge to engage in activities which may conflict with the Code, the judge should delegate some of the responsibilities to other officers. JEAC Op. 02-17.

REFERENCES

Florida Code of Judicial Conduct: Canons 5A and 5(C)(3)

Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinions: 02-17, 01-13 and 01-09

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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 Jeffrey D. Swartz, Chairman, Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, Miami Beach District Courthouse, 1130 Washington Avenue, Miami Beach, FL 33139.

Participating Members:

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)