FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2004-20(Election)1
Date of Issue: June 4, 2004

ISSUES

Whether a candidate for judicial office who is running against an incumbent judge may state in campaign literature that the candidate served as a volunteer judge in a teen court diversion program.

ANSWER: Yes.

FACTS

The inquiring judicial candidate is a non-incumbent, who is campaigning against an incumbent judge. The inquiring judicial candidate has served as a voluntary judge in a diversion program, known as teen court. The inquiring judicial candidate would like to publish this volunteer service in campaign literature and asks whether this is ethically permissible.

DISCUSSION

Canon 7(A)(3)(d)(iii) specifies that a candidate shall not knowingly misrepresent the identity, qualifications, present condition, or other fact concerning the candidate or an opponent.

In JEAC Op. 00-23, the Committee stated that it will not approve or disapprove specific language of individual campaign advertisements; rather, the Committee will provide the ethical provisions that judicial candidates should consider. In that opinion, the Committee observed:

A judicial candidate who presents information regarding the identity, qualifications, present position or other fact concerning the candidate or an opponent must not present the information out of context and must give the whole picture. Taking these matters out of context or failing to provide the public with the whole picture, either through inclusion or omission, can result in a violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct. The public relies on the information provided by candidates' advertisements. Half-truths, innuendo, and equivocations run afoul of the Code of Judicial Conduct and are unacceptable in judicial campaign advertisements.

In JEAC Op. 02-07, the Committee addressed an analogous issue. There, the inquiring judge was appointed to the bench by the governor and thereafter qualified for his/her first election, drawing opposition. The judge inquired whether the terms "re-elect" or "retain" could be used in campaign literature. The Committee stated that "where the use of a word in a campaign is likely to lead others to draw an inaccurate conclusion, or will likely result in confusion, that word is to be avoided."

That rationale is pertinent to this inquiry. The inquiring candidate must avoid any use of the term "judge" that would lead others to draw an inaccurate conclusion or that would likely result in confusion. The unqualified use of the term "judge" in conjunction with the inquiring judicial candidate's campaign could mislead others into believing that the candidate previously held office as a judge. So long as the use of the term clearly indicates that the service was voluntary community service and not service as a judicial officer, it would not be improper.

REFERENCES

Canon 7(A)(3)(d)(iii)
Fla. JEAC Op. 00-23
Fla. JEAC Op. 02-07

_____________

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 Emerson Thompson, Judge McFerrin Smith, III, Marjorie Gadarian Graham


Copies furnished to:
Justice Peggy Quince
Thomas D. Hall, Clerk of Supreme Court
All Committee Members
Executive Director of the J.Q.C.
Office of the State Courts Administrator
(Name of inquiring judge deleted from this copy)

1. The Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee has appointed an Election Practices Subcommittee. The purpose of the subcommittee is to provide immediate responses to campaign questions in instances where the normal Committee procedure would not provide a response in time to be useful to the inquiring candidate or judge. Opinions designated with the "(Election)" notation are opinions of the Election Practices Subcommittee of the Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee and have the same authority as an opinion of the Committee.