FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2004-26
Date of Issue: June 29, 2004

ISSUES

1. Whether a judge may serve on the board of directors of a non-profit organization serving the needs of the blind.

ANSWER: Yes.

2. Whether a judge may serve on the board of directors of a non-profit organization designed to inspire excellence in leadership.

ANSWER: Yes.

3. Whether a judge may serve as president of a non-profit organization promoting women in positions of leadership.

ANSWER: Yes.

FACTS

The inquiring judge asks if it is proper for the judge to remain on the board of directors of a non-profit organization whose mission is to enhance the independence, productivity, and quality of life of blind and visually impaired children and adults. The judge has served on the board of directors for this organization for many years and has informed the organization that a judge is not permitted to participate in fundraising activities and that the judge's name and position cannot be used in any fundraising activities or literature.

The judge also asks if it is proper for the judge serve on the board of directors of a non-profit organization that seeks to inspire excellence in leadership by developing leaders and encouraging community trusteeship. The judge was involved with this organization for many years before becoming a judge.

The judge finally asks if it is proper to serve as president-elect, commencing June, 2004, and president, commencing June, 2005, of a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote opportunities and acceptance of women in positions of leadership and to acknowledge the professional development and community enhancement of women. One or two modest scholarships are given out each year to deserving women. Fundraising for the organization is done by requesting additional funds for the scholarships in the annual dues invoices and reminders in the monthly newsletter. The judge will not be involved in fundraising activities for the organization. As president and president-elect, the judge would not author the dues invoices nor ask for funds in the newsletter. The judge has served on the board of the organization for three years prior to becoming a judge.

DISCUSSION

Canon 5C(3), Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, states that "a judge may serve as an officer, director, trustee, or non-legal advisor of an educational, religious, charitable, fraternal, sororal, or civic organizations not conducted for profit." Judges are encouraged to participate in community activities in the community they live in, so as not to become isolated. Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Commentary to Canon 5. There are, however, situations in which a judge could violate the Code. For example, a judge may not serve as an officer or director of an organization that is likely to appear in court on a frequent basis. Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 5C(3)(a)(ii). Although judges may help an organization plan fundraising activities and participate in the management of funds, judges cannot personally participate in soliciting funds nor can they use the prestige of the judicial office for fundraising.

Each of the organizations are charitable or civic non-profit organizations. They are not organizations that will be in the courts on a regular basis. Furthermore, the inquiring judge has indicated that the judge will not participate in the fundraising activities of any of the organizations.

In JEAC Op. 03-01, our Committee found that the inquiring judge could serve as implementation chair of a community-based, non-profit organization developed to improve the community's quality by improving race relations. Several other opinions of this Committee have deemed it permissible for a judge to serve in a leadership capacity for a non-profit organization as long as there is no situation that would cast doubt on a judge's ability to act impartially. See JEAC Ops. 04-16, 00-09, 02-17, and 94-11.

In conclusion, the inquiring judge may continue to serve as a member, on the board of directors, or as an officer of each of the organizations so long as the judge will not be participating in fundraising activities and for so long as it does not appear likely that the organization will frequently appear in court. If the duties of the judge's position changes so that they would conflict with the Code, the judge will need to delegate those duties to other officers in the organization. JEAC Op. 02-17.

REFERENCES

Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 5; 5C(3)
Fla. JEAC Op. 04-16,03-01, 02-17, 00-09, and 94-11

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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 Robert Benton, Judge Karen Cole, Judge Lisa Davidson, Judge Melanie May, Judge Michael Raiden, 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
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)