FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2004-21 (Election)1
Date of Issue: June 4, 2004

ISSUES

Whether a candidate for election to an open judicial seat may attend a social function hosted by a United States Congressman when the invitation reflects the function is paid for by the Congressman's re-election funds.

ANSWER: No.

FACTS

The inquiring candidate for judicial office is an incumbent elected county official and is a personal friend of a Congressman. Canon 7 applies to this candidate. See Canon 7E.

The Congressman invited the inquiring candidate to a function called " an afternoon in the country at (name of site omitted) in beautiful (name of community omitted) Florida." A tasteful, printed invitation describes the event as including lunch and entertainment by a band. Nothing in the invitation suggests that the event is anything but a social function, except for the disclaimer at the bottom of the page: "Paid for by (name of congressman omitted) for Congress."

DISCUSSION

Canon 7 requires all judges and candidates for judicial office to refrain from inappropriate political activity.

Canon 7A(1)(d) specifically prohibits a judge or candidate from attending any political party function, and Canon 7A(1)(b) prohibits a judge or candidate from publicly endorsing or opposing another candidate for public office. (Canons 7A(1)(a) and (c) contain prohibitions not involved in this Inquiry.)

Specific political activity approved by the code is listed in Canon 7C(3). This list includes attending political party functions to speak on specific topics, where there is no fund-raising, and where the invitation includes the other candidates for the same judicial office. Canon 7C(3) further provides that the candidate for judicial office should refrain from commenting on the candidates' party affiliations.

A significant provision in Canon 7C(3) requires the judicial candidate to "avoid conduct that suggests or appears to suggest support of or opposition to a political party, a political issue, or another candidate." See JEAC Opinions 77-15, 79-10, and 90-16. While the "political issue" language of that provision may be questioned in the aftermath of Republican Party of Minnesota v. White, 536 U.S. 765, 122 S.Ct. 2528, 153 L.Ed.2d 694 (2002), the prohibition against injecting partisan affiliations into judicial elections and endorsing other candidates remains clear. See In Re Angel, 867 So. 2d 379 (Fla. 2004).

The Code of Judicial Conduct contains no general prohibition against a judge or judicial candidate attending purely social functions, including a Congressman's function, so long as no restriction in the code is involved. However, the "afternoon in the country" in this Inquiry appears to be a campaign function, as evidenced by the funding source. The inquiring candidate attending such a function could cause a reasonable person to perceive attendance as an endorsement of the Congressman's candidacy for re-election, in violation of Canon 7A(1)(b) and 7C(3). Moreover, since congressional elections are partisan, appearing at this campaign event would be attending a partisan political party activity, in violation of Canon 7A(1)(d) and 7C(3).

The Committee advises the inquiring candidate against attending.

REFERENCES

In Re Angel, 867 So. 2d 379 (Fla. 2004).
Florida Code of Judicial Conduct, Canons 7A(1), and 7C(3).
Fla. JEAC Op.: 77-15, 79-10, and 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 Richard R. Townsend, Acting Chair, Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, Post Office Box 1018, Green Cove Springs, Florida 32043.

Participating Members:
Judge Emerson R. Thompson, Jr., Judge McFerrin Smith, III, and Marjorie Gadarian Graham, Esquire.


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.