FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2004-28 (Election)1
Date of Issue: July 6, 2004

ISSUES

Whether a candidate for judicial office can attend a "meet and greet" function for judicial and non-judicial candidates, given by a group of people who live in the same neighborhood, where all candidates for the same judicial seat are not included, and where the function is not a fund-raiser nor connected to any political party.

ANSWER: Yes.

FACTS

The inquiring candidate for judicial office has been invited to attend and participate in a "Meet and Greet" event, sponsored by a group of people who live in the same neighborhood. The invitation has been extended to three judicial candidates and one non-judicial candidate, but does not include the candidates' opponents. The group of neighbors includes members from all major political parties, but nothing in the inquiry suggests that they are acting as a political party in sponsoring this event. The event is not a fund-raiser. For the purpose of this inquiry, it is assumed that the event is not sponsored by the candidate's campaign workers.

DISCUSSION

In JEAC Opinions 04-23 (Election) and 04-27 (Election), this Committee stated that a judicial candidate may meet voters and distribute campaign literature at a non-partisan "Meet and Greet" event. (Partisan events are governed by different provisions of the Code. See JEAC Op. 02-13.)

The issues in the present inquiry are very similar to Ops. 04-23 and 04-27, except that the sponsors of the event here are private citizens, and the invited candidates' opponents are not included.

So long as other provisions of the Code are complied with, nothing in Canon 7 prohibits a judicial candidate from attending and participating in a private, non-partisan, "Meet and Greet" party, even where the candidate's opponent is not invited and where candidates from other races are also invited. The requirement that all candidates for a particular office be included is contained in Canon 7C(3), which governs attendance at political party functions. Canon 7C(3) does not apply here because, as this inquiry clearly states, this event is not a political party function, but rather is sponsored by a group of people who live in the same neighborhood.

The invitation to candidates from several unrelated contested races should not preclude a judicial candidate from attending and participating, since the candidate is not sponsoring the event. However, the judicial candidate should be careful to avoid saying or doing anything at the event that could be interpreted as an endorsement of other candidates who are present. See Canon 7A(1)(b) and Fla. JEAC Ops. 77-15, 82-08, 90-16, 01-01, 02-10(Election), 02-13, and 04-21(Election).

REFERENCES

Florida Code of Judicial Conduct, Canons 7A(1)(b) and 7C(3).

Fla. JEAC Ops. 77-15, 82-08, 90-16, 01-01, 02-10 (Election), 04-23 (Election), and 04-27 (Election).

_____________

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 Richard R. Townsend, 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.