FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2004-30 (Election)1
Date of Issue: July 20, 2004

ISSUES

Whether a judicial candidate can attend church services and be introduced to the congregation as a candidate for judicial office by an incumbent judge who describes the judicial candidate as the incumbent judge's "friend and guest?"

ANSWER: No.

FACTS

The inquiring candidate for judicial office anticipates an invitation from an incumbent judge to attend church services with the incumbent judge. The incumbent judge plans to introduce the candidate as "his friend and guest." The judicial candidate writes: "[The incumbent judge] is very well known in [the] church and my campaign is a matter of public and common knowledge in our community. Thus, the clear implication would be that the judge was supporting me in a public/quasi-public setting and that I was a knowing and willing participant."

DISCUSSION

Because the inquiry is from a judicial candidate and not an incumbent judge, we begin our analysis by noting that the Code of Judicial Conduct applies to judicial candidates. Canon 7E, Applicability, states: "Canon 7 generally applies to all incumbent judges and judicial candidates. A successful candidate, whether or not an incumbent, is subject to judicial discipline for his or her campaign conduct." Fla. Code of Jud. Conduct, Canon 7E. Thus, this judicial candidate's inquiry is specifically governed by Canon 7. Fla. Code of Jud. Conduct, Commentary to Canon 7.

Canon 7A(1)(b) states: "[A] judge or a candidate for election or appointment to judicial office shall not publicly endorse or publicly oppose another candidate for public office." In Opinion 01-01, this committee answered the inquiry of a traffic hearing officer who asked whether it was appropriate to endorse and make a contribution to a judicial candidate. After determining that Canon 7 applied to traffic hearing officers, the committee answered that neither judges nor judicial candidates should endorse judicial candidates. Id. (Emphasis supplied). The committee has previously written that various forms of endorsement by judges or judicial candidates are prohibited by the Code. See JEAC Op 03-24 (holding that a judge may not endorse the appointment of a public guardian where the endorsement will be used to solicit funds); see also JEAC Op 92-32 (stating that a judge may not sign a petition for an individual to qualify for election because the judge's "signature on the petition may reasonably be perceived as an endorsement of the candidate for public office"); JEAC Op 89-15 (holding that a judge may not personally appear before a nominating commission to support and endorse a candidate).

We understand that the judicial candidate is receiving rather than giving the endorsement, but this is a distinction without a difference. Because Canon 7E applies to judicial candidates, the judicial candidate cannot accept the gesture.

As the judicial candidate surmised in the inquiry, it would be inappropriate for the judicial candidate to attend the incumbent judge's church to be introduced by the incumbent judge. The implication would be clear that the incumbent judge was endorsing his "friend and guest." Our opinion does not prohibit the judicial candidate from attending church with the incumbent judge, but the judicial candidate should not allow the incumbent judge to introduce and imply an endorsement of the judicial candidate. Finally, as the judicial candidate should not allow the introduction, the incumbent should not attempt to introduce the judicial candidate as "my friend and guest." This is an implicit endorsement and violates Canon 7 A(1)(b).

REFERENCES

Florida Code of Judicial Conduct: Canons 7A(1)(b), 7E.

Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinions: 03-24; 92-32; 89-15.

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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 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.