FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2003-13
Date of Issue: July 17, 2003

JUDGE ATTENDING AND SPEAKING AT POLITICAL PARTY FUNCTIONS.

ISSUES

1. Whether a blanket invitation in a political party newsletter inviting all judicial candidates to speak is sufficient to allow the candidate to attend and speak even if the opponent is not present.

ANSWER: Yes.

2. Whether an invitation from the political party's president for a candidate and the candidate's opponent, which the candidate attends and the opponent does not attend, is permissible. If so, whether the candidate may speak, greet, and hand out literature.

ANSWER: Yes.

3. Whether a candidate not invited to speak, may stand outside the function at the beginning or end of the political party meeting and hand out literature greeting the participants.

ANSWER: No.

4. Whether a judicial candidate's volunteer workers may wear badges to vote for the candidate at party functions and hand out literature.

ANSWER: No, unless the judge is properly present under the provisions of Canon 7.

FACTS

The inquiring attorney is a candidate for county judge who seeks guidance as to certain proposed actions concerning attendance at political party functions. The facts of the proposed conduct are set out in the inquiries above.

DISCUSSION

Under Canon 7C(3) of the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct, a candidate for judicial election may attend a political party function to speak on behalf of his or her candidacy or on a matter that relates to the law, the improvement of the legal system, or the administration of justice. The function must not be a fundraiser, and the invitation to speak must also include the other candidates, if any, for the office.

"[A] judicial candidate attending a party function that suggests support or opposition to a political issue, or another candidate."

The questions raised in this inquiry are not novel, and some have been answered on multiple occasions.

A blanket invitation, so long as it is an actual invitation to judicial candidates to attend and speak, is permissible. See, e.g., Fla. JEAC Ops. 00-22, 98-17, and 96-11. The candidate may also attend in response to an invitation from the political party's president extended to the candidate and the opponent, whether or not the opponent attends. Once the candidate has been properly invited to speak, "the spirit of Canon 7C(3) [will] permit the distribution of campaign literature and materials by the candidate Fla. JEAC Op. 00-22.

Questions 3 and 4 have been previously answered in the negative, and the Committee reiterates that answer. See, e.g., Fla. JEAC Ops. 02-08, 00-26, 96-20, and 90-16. Canon 7C(3) specifically provides in its text, "conduct limited to that [described in the Canon] does not constitute participation in a partisan political activity." Canon 7 generally prohibits partisan political activity by judicial candidates, except as allowed by the exceptions to Canon 7. The primary exception, applicable in this case, is the exception that will allow a judicial candidate to attend a political party function to speak on behalf of the candidate's candidacy, with certain other conditions. Accordingly, the Canon does not contemplate conduct that is outside the bounds of that conduct allowed by Canon 7C(3). Moreover, the candidate may not authorize, or knowingly permit, any other person to do for the candidate what the candidate is prohibited from doing under Canon 7. See Fla. JEAC Op. 96-20.

The JEAC is well aware of present federal litigation challenging various provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct, as it applies in Florida and other states. The Florida Supreme Court, however, In re: Kinsey, 842 So. 2d 77 (Fla. 2003), has recently upheld Florida's version of Canon 7 as not violative of the First Amendment. This Committee is not empowered to provide opinions as to the constitutionality of the provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct, but is empowered solely to provide opinions concerning the applicability of the Code of Judicial Conduct to contemplated judicial and non-judicial actions of judges and candidates for judicial office. This Committee is not empowered in any way to enforce the Code of Judicial Conduct.

REFERENCES

(In re: Kinsey, 842 So. 2d 77 (Fla. 2003)
Code of Judicial Conduct: Canons 7, 7C(3)
Fla. JEAC Op. 02-08
Fla. JEAC Op. 00-26
Fla. JEAC Op. 00-22
Fla. JEAC Op. 98-17
Fla. JEAC Op. 96-20
Fla. JEAC Op. 96-11
Fla. JEAC Op. 90-16

_____________

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 Phyllis D. Kotey, Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, Eighth Judicial Circuit, Alachua County Courthouse, 201 East University Avenue, Room 205, Gainesville, Florida 32601.

Participating Members:
Judge Jeffrey D. Swartz, Judge McFerrin Smith, III, Judge Richard R. Townsend, Judge Charles J. Kahn, Jr., Judge Melanie May, Judge Lisa Davidson, Judge Emerson R. Thompson, Jr., Judge Scott J. Silverman, Ervin Gonzalez, Esquire, and 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)