FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2004-02
Date of Issue: January 16, 2004

ISSUES

Whether a General Master sitting in Family Division of Circuit Court may serve as a member of an Advisory Committee for a Florida Assertive Community Treatment Team.

ANSWER: No.

FACTS

The inquiring General Master sits the Family Division of the Circuit Court. The General Master inquires as to the propriety of being member of an Advisory Committee for a Florida Assertive Community Treatment Team. The General Master advises the committee that part of the General Master's duties is to conduct hearings under Chapters 394 and 397, Florida Statutes, dealing with mental illness (the Baker Act) and substance abuse (the Marchman Act), respectively.

The information furnished by the inquiring General Master states that "the role of the Advisory Committee is advocacy by design." The FACT Team is created to provide intensive case management services for those who are persistently and severely mentally ill and who also meet certain other criteria such as having a co-existing substance abuse disorder, or are at high risk of or have recently been incarcerated, and are generally unable to sustain themselves by performing the range of practical daily living tasks.

This has in the past and will in the future require that the director and assistant director of the FACT Team file petitions in the inquiring General Master's court. As a member of the Advisory Committee, the General Master meets quarterly with the director and assistant director of the FACT Team.

DISCUSSION

First, the Code of Judicial Conduct regulates the activities and conduct of General Masters. See "Application of Code of Judicial Conduct" following Canon 7. The discussion herein will revolve around what a judge may or may not do, but is applicable to General Masters.

Canon 5A(1) states in part that a judge shall conduct all of the judge's extra-judicial activities so that they do not cast reasonable doubt on the judge's capacity to act impartially. Therefore, a judge may not serve as a member of an advocacy group.

Previous Committee opinions have found it proper for a judge to serve on advisory councils. The Committee has given approval for judges to serve on a alcohol, drug abuse and mental health district planning council (Fla. JEAC Op. 88-24 and 88-30); on the board of directors of a DUI Countermeasure school (Fla. JEAC Op. 93-23); in an advisory capacity on the regional juvenile detention center's community advisory board (Fla. JEAC Op. 94-04); as a member of district juvenile justice board (Fla. JEAC Op. 94-31); as a member of the Victims' Assistance Advisory Council (Fla. JEAC Op. 98-26) and a member of an ad hoc task force created to assist and facilitate the implementation of recent legislation (Fla. JEAC Op. 99-12).

However, in Fla. JEAC Op. 01-14 the Committee opined that a judge may not serve on Criminal Justice Commission which operated a Batterer's Intervention Program and which appeared to have become an advocacy group. In rendering its opinion the Committee relied upon Fla. JEAC Op. 98-08 (judge belonging to victim's rights council that sponsored training for judges, review judicial rulings and decisions relating to sentences, referrals to batterers' intervention programs, the ordering of child support, etc; and supports bills and legislation) and Fla. JEAC Op. 94-38 (judge handling all battery cases arising from domestic violence incidents).

It is the opinion of the Committee that the inquiring General Master may not serve as a member of the FACT Team in that the FACT Team by its own definition is an "advocacy group." Therefore, participation is prohibited pursuant to Canon 5A(1) of the Code of Judicial Conduct.

REFERENCES

Florida Code of Jud. Conduct Canon 5(A)1

Fla. JEAC Op. 88-24, 88-30, 93-23, 94-04, 94-31, 97-20, 98-26, and 99-12.

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

Participating Members:
Judge Lisa Davidson, Judge Phyllis Kotey, Judge Melanie May, Judge McFerrin Smith, III, Judge Jeffrey D. Swartz, Judge Emerson R. Thompson, Jr. Judge Richard R. Townsend, and Marjorie Gadarian Graham, Esquire


Copies furnished to:
Justice Peggy Quince
All Committee Members
Execute Director of the J.Q.C.
Office of the State Courts Administrator
Inquiring Judge
(Name of inquiring judge deleted from this copy)