FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2003-20
Date of Issue: November 10, 2003

JUDICIAL CANDIDATE RETAINING A CAMPAIGN CONSULTING FIRM IN WHICH ANOTHER JUDGE'S SPOUSE HAS AN INTEREST.

ISSUES

Whether a judge running for reelection may retain as a consultant a company in which another judge's spouse has an ownership interest?

ANSWER: Yes.

FACTS

The inquiry comes from a sitting judge who, anticipating opposition, plans to run for reelection and to contract for consulting services during the campaign. The inquiring judge asks whether the Committee perceives "any potential violation" of the judicial canons, if the judge retains as a consultant a company which is partially owned by the spouse of a judicial colleague who "has no ownership or other operational interest in the spouse's company."

DISCUSSION

The Committee is aware of no reason why a judge running for reelection cannot retain as a consultant a company in which another judge's spouse has an ownership interest. The judge must not, of course, authorize or knowingly permit the consultant, the consultant's employees or its agents to do for the judge anything Canon 7 prohibits candidates from doing, except to the extent permitted by Canon 7C(1).

The judge whose spouse has partial ownership of the consulting company has not sought our advice and we offer none. See In re Code of Judicial Conduct, 840 So.2d 1023, 1026 (Fla. 2003) ("The stated purpose of the JEAC was, and is, to render written advisory opinions to inquiring judges concerning the propriety of contemplated . . . conduct.") (Emphasis supplied.); Fla. JEAC Op. 84-16 ("The Committee . . . can only respond to the inquiries of a judge . . . concerning his own conduct in terms of the Code of Judicial Conduct."). We note, however, that judges' spouses' autonomy in the political arena has been the subject of other opinions of the Committee, including Fla. JEAC Op. 94-21 and Fla. JEAC Op. 84-19.

REFERENCES

Florida Code of Judicial Conduct, Canon 7, 7A(3)(b), 7C(1).

In re Code of Judicial Conduct, 840 So.2d 1023 (Fla. 2003).

Fla. JEAC Op. 84-16
Fla. JEAC Op. 84-19
Fla. JEAC Op. 94-21

_____________

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 Richard R. Townsend, Acting Chair, Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, Post Office Box 1018, Green Cove Springs, Florida 32043.

Participating Members:
Judge Robert Benton, Judge Karen Cole, Judge Lisa Davidson, Judge Melanie May, Judge Jose Rodriguez, Judge McFerrin Smith, III, Judge Emerson R. Thompson, Jr. Judge Richard R. Townsend, 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)