FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2004-27 (Election)1
Date of Issue: June 29, 2004

ISSUES

1. Whether a judge or candidate for judicial office can attend various "meet and greet" functions sponsored by non-partisan groups, and use campaign funds to pay admission and table fees at these events.

ANSWER: Yes.

2. Whether a judge or candidate can attend the foregoing "meet and greet" functions if they are "fundraisers."

ANSWER: No.

3. Whether the inquiring judge, who has been writing a weekly newspaper column, can continue to write the column while in a contested re-election campaign.

ANSWER: Yes.

FACTS

The inquiring judge is a candidate for re-election and has opposition. The judge has been invited to attend and participate in activities commonly called "Meet and Greet" events, sponsored by various non-partisan organizations, including a local municipality, local chambers of commerce, and a retirement community. The chambers of commerce charge candidates a fee of $200.00 to set up a table and the events sponsored by the chambers of commence were designated "fundraisers" by the inquiring judge.

The inquiring judge writes a weekly column for a local newspaper and would like to continue to write the column during the campaign.

DISCUSSION

The first inquiry differs from the second inquiry in one significant respect. The second inquiry states that the "meet and greet" events sponsored by the chambers of commerce are fund-raisers.

In JEAC Opinion 04-23 (Election) this Committee stated that a judicial candidate may purchase a table with campaign funds, distribute campaign literature, and meet voters at a county-wide non-partisan event, if the event is not a fundraiser. (Partisan events are governed by different provisions of the Code. See JEAC Op. 02-13.)

While the Code contains no definition of the term "fund-raiser," the Committee is of the opinion that a common sense approach should be used. The organization that charges a fee to defray costs and expenses is not fund-raising. Likewise, the event that results in the sponsor making an incidental profit is not necessarily a fund-raiser, unless the purpose of the event was to raise funds.

The written inquiry states that the events sponsored by the chambers of commerce are fundraisers. The inquiry does not so label the other organizations' "Meet and Greet" programs. This Committee is not an investigative body, so it must accept, as accurate, the facts stated in written inquiries. Therefore, we accept the fund-raising description for these chamber events.

Canons 2B, 7C(3) and 5C(3)(b) collectively prohibit judges and judicial candidates from permitting the use of the prestige of judicial office for fund-raising or membership solicitation. The commentary to Canon 5C(3)(b) explains the bar on fund-raising as follows:

Solicitation of funds for an organization .involve the danger that the person solicited will feel obligated to respond favorably to the solicitor if the solicitor is in a position of influence or control."

Therefore, since the events sponsored by the chambers of commerce are fund-raisers, no candidate for judicial office, including the incumbent judge, should participate. However, the judge may participate in the other non-partisan events.

Regarding the third inquiry, the incumbent judge writes a weekly column for a newspaper. The judge has concluded that the column is proper, after considering JEAC Op. 99-14.

Canons 4B and 5B specifically encourage judges to engage in activities to improve the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice, by speaking, writing, lecturing, and teaching. Numerous opinions of the JEAC have approved judges writing articles. See JEAC Ops. 76-17, 78-12, 82-05, 95-37, 99-14, 00-05. Of course, the writer/judge must be careful to avoid writing anything that could be construed as an intimation of how the judge would rule in a particular case. JEAC Ops. 81-12, 99-14, and 00-02.

Nothing in Canon 7 prohibits an incumbent judge from doing, during a contested re-election, those things the judge was properly doing or could have done prior to drawing opposition. Therefore, continuing to write an otherwise appropriate article is not prohibited because the judge has opposition.

REFERENCES

Florida Code of Judicial Conduct, Canons 2B, 4B, 5B, 7C(3) and 5C(3)(b).

Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinions 76-17, 78-12, 81-12, 82-05, 95-37, 99-14, 00-02, 00-05, 02-13 and 04-23.

_____________

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 McFerrin Smith, III, Judge Emerson R. Thompson, Jr., 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.