FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2003-05
Date of Issue: May 13, 2003

 

JUDGE PERMITTING A NOT FOR PROFIT ORGANIZATION TO SOLICIT FUNDS FOR SCHOLARSHIP NAMED FOR THE JUDGE.

 

ISSUES

Whether a sitting judicial officer may permit a not for profit organization which is controlled by a voluntary bar association to solicit funds for a scholarship named for the judge.

ANSWER: No.

FACTS

The inquiring judge has been informed by a foundation, a not for profit organization controlled by a voluntary bar association, that it has and intends to continue to solicit funds for a scholarship which the foundation is naming for the judge as tribute to him as the first president of the voluntary bar association and for his distinguished service as a circuit and appellate judge. The judge inquires and requests the committee's opinion as to the propriety of such a tribute and what action the judge should take at this time in light of the fact that without the judge's knowledge funds have already been solicited and contributed. The scholarship is to be endowed to assist students at a certain law school.

DISCUSSION

Canon 2B of the Code of Judicial Conduct states that a judge "shall not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of others." Canon 5C(3)(b)(i) and (iii) state in pertinent part:

(3) A judge may serve as an officer, director, trustee or non-legal advisor of a . . .charitable. . .organization not conducted for profit, subject to the following limitations and the other requirements of this Code.

* * *

(b) A judge as an officer, director, trustee or non-legal advisor, or as a member or otherwise: (i) may assist such organization in planning a fund-raising event. . . , but shall not personally participate in the solicitation of funds...

* * *

(iii) shall not use or permit the use of the prestige of judicial office for fund-raising or membership solicitation.

In several opinions, the Committee has addressed the issue of lending the prestige of judicial office to charitable fund-raising events and has made it clear that, if the judge's participation in any way involves the solicitation or gives the appearance of the solicitation of funds, the judge may not participate. See Fla. JEAC Op. 00-31 (judge acting as chairperson for fund-raising kickoff for charitable organization); Fla. JEAC Op. 98-10 (the Committee stated that the judge could participate unless "the event is a fund-raiser."); Fla. JEAC Op. 92-38 (judge may not be involved in the solicitation of donations of coats for the homeless that would be distributed by the Salvation Army); and Fla. JEAC Op. 88-5 (judge cannot participate in an exhibition basketball game to raise scholarship money where participation implicated the prestige of judge's office for the purpose of rasing funds).

The Committee concludes that as to the funds already raised, the judge has not lent the prestige of the office. The Committee sees no reason why that fund-raising would be affected. Moreover the tribute is permissible and judge's only obligation is to avoid lending judicial prestige to further fund-raising.

A minority of the committee has dissented relying upon Opinion No. 89 of the Committee on Codes of Conduct for the federal judiciary on the subject of Judges' Acceptance of Honors Funded Through Voluntary Contributions. In Opinion No. 89 that federal committee considered the establishment of a scholarship in the name of a sitting Federal District Court Judge and found same to be permissible under the federal code. The majority notes that the federal code differs from the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct and that the judges of this state are subject to a differing and more onerous form of discipline than federal judges.

Therefore, despite the admirable goals of the foundation's activities and the fact that the judge is well deserving of the honor to be bestowed, the Committee advises the inquiring judge that the judge must discourage the foundation from using the prestige of the judge's office to advance the private interests of others by future fund-raising activities in the judge's name.

REFERENCES

Florida Code of Judicial Conduct Canon 2B and 5c(3)(b)(i) and ((iii).

Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinions: 00-31, 98-10, 92-38.

Committee on Codes of Conduct for the Federal Judiciary Opinion No. 89

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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:
Judge Jeffrey D. Swartz, Judge McFerrin Smith, III, Judge Richard R. Townsend, Judge Charles J. Kahn, Jr., Judge Lisa Davidson, Judge Emerson Thompson, Judge Scott J. Silverman, Judge Melanie G. May, Judge Phyliss D. Kotey, Ervin Gonzalez, Esq. and Marjorie Gadarian Graham, Esq.


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)