FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2004-24 (Election)1
Date of Issue: June 16, 2004

ISSUES

Whether a judicial candidate may answer questions posed by a newspaper in an opinion survey where the responses to questions may be published in the newspaper?

ANSWER: Yes.

FACTS

The inquiring judicial candidate has been asked to participate in an opinion survey conducted by a newspaper. Responses to the questions posed to judicial candidates may be published in the newspaper. The questions ask the judicial candidate to express his or her personal opinions on certain issues and also ask what individual strengths the candidate would bring to the bench.

DISCUSSION

The inquiring judicial candidate may respond to an opinion survey so long as the candidate follows the mandate of Canon 7.

In JEAC Op. 02-13 (Election) and JEAC Op. 04-09 (Election), this committee has addressed similar issues. In JEAC Op. 02-13 (Election), this committee opined that a candidate may state his or her views on constitutional or statutory construction and other controversial issues, so long as the candidate does not advocate opposition to or support of political issues; the candidate makes no pledges or promises of conduct, other than the faithful and impartial performance of the duties of the office; and the candidate does not make statements that commit or appear to commit the candidate with respect to cases, controversies, or issues that are likely to come before the court. Citing Canon 7A(3)(d)(i)-(ii), this committee concluded that a judicial candidate may state his views orally or in writing on disputed issues, as long as the candidate also states that the candidate will uphold the law.

More recently, in JEAC Op. 04-09 (Election), this committee addressed the issue of whether a candidate for judicial office may announce the candidate's view on disputed legal or political issues, consistent with the decision in Republican Party of Minnesota v. White, 536 U.S. 765 (2002). This committee concluded that a candidate may do so, provided that the candidate also states that he/she will uphold the law. This committee noted that the Florida Supreme Court specifically addressed applicability of Republican Party of Minnesota v. White in its decision in In re Kinsey, 842 So. 2d 77 (Fla. 2003). The Florida Supreme Court stated that Florida's Canon 7A(3)(d)(i)-(iii) was narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest and met the test set forth by the United States Supreme Court in Republican Party of Minnesota v. White. In JEAC Op. 04-09, this committee concluded that a judicial candidate may state views orally or in writing on disputed issues, as long as the candidate also states that he/she will uphold the law.

REFERENCES

JEAC Op. 02-13 (Election)
JEAC Op. 04-09 (Election)
Canon 7A(3)(d)(i)-(ii)
Canon 7A(3)(d)(i)-(iii)
Republican Party of Minnesota v. White, 536 U.S. 765 (2002)
In re Kinsey, 842 So. 2d 77 (Fla. 2003)

_____________

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, Esq.


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.