FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2006-06
Date of Issue: March 10, 2006

ISSUES

May judges attend the annual holiday party hosted by the guardian ad litem program, honoring its volunteers?

ANSWER: Yes.

FACTS

The Guardian Ad Litem program sponsors an annual holiday party honoring its volunteers. The Guardian Ad Litem program is separate from the court system. The volunteers appear as advocates before the judges. All circuit and county judges are invited to the annual holiday party, as are Division of Children and Family attorneys, private attorneys who handle family law matters, attorneys who represent parents in termination of parental rights cases, and court administrative personnel. Judges who attend are invitees and not among those being honored.

DISCUSSION

Canon 5 provides that “A Judge Shall Regulate Extrajudicial Activities to Minimize the Risk of Conflict with Judicial Duties.” Further, the commentary to Canon 5D(5)(a) states that acceptance of an invitation to a law-related function, and of an invitation paid for by an individual lawyer or group of lawyers is governed by Canon 5D(5)(h). 

Canons 5D(5)(a) and (h) provide:

5) A judge shall not accept, and shall urge members of a judge’s household not to accept, a gift, bequest, favor or loan from anyone except for:

(a) a gift incident to a public testimonial, books, tapes and other resource materials supplied by publishers on a complimentary basis for official use, or an invitation to a judge and the judge’s spouse or guest to attend a bar-related function or an activity devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system or the administration of justice;

 
*   *   *  

(h) any other gift, bequest, favor or loan, only if: the donor is not a party or other person who has come or is likely to come or whose interests have come or are likely to come before the judge; and, if its value, or the aggregate value in a calendar year of such gifts, bequests, favor, or loans from a single source, exceeds $100.00, the judge reports it in the same manner as the judge reports gifts under Section 6B(2).

The Code of Judicial Conduct permits and encourages judges to attend functions devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice. JEAC Op. 00-20. See also JEAC Op. 00-14 (Judges may attend functions, including luncheons, annual dances, and judicial receptions on complimentary invitations, of aligned bar associations, such as the Dade County Trial Lawyers Association or the Florida Defense Lawyers Association, because these are functions devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice); JEAC Op. 84-04 (The meetings are law related and are an appropriate setting for contact between members of the Bar and the Bench who must work together for the improvement of the legal system). 

Moreover, Canon 4 encourages judges to engage in activities to improve the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice.  Section (B) holds that:

A judge is encouraged to speak, write, lecture, teach and participate in other quasi-judicial activities concerning the law, the legal system, the administration of justice, and the role of the judiciary as an independent branch within our system of government, subject to the requirements of this Code.

The commentary to Section 4B notes:

“Support of pro bono legal services by members of the bench is an activity that relates to improvement of the administration of justice.  Accordingly, a judge may engage in activities intended to encourage attorneys to perform pro bono services, including, but not limited to:  participating in events to recognize attorneys who do pro bono work, …” 

The Committee concludes that judges may attend the Guardian Ad Litem holiday party.

REFERENCES

Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canons 4B, 5D(5)(a), and 5D(5)(h); and Commentary to Canons 4B and 5D(5)(a).

Fla. JEAC Ops. 00-20; 00-14; and 84-04

_____________

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 the judge or judicial candidate. Its opinions are advisory to the inquiring party, to the Judicial Qualifications Commission and 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 Qualifications 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 Marjorie Gadarian Graham, Esq., Chair, Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, 11211 Prosperity Farms Road, Oakpark, Suite D129, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida 33410.

Participating Members:
Judge Robert Benton, Judge Karen Cole, Judge Lisa Davidson, Ervin Gonzalez, Esquire, Marjorie Gadarian Graham, Esquire, Judge Michael Raiden, Judge Jose Rodriguez, Judge Leslie B. Rothenberg, Judge McFerrin Smith, III,  Judge Emerson R. Thompson, Jr., Judge Richard R. Townsend, and Judge Dorothy Vaccaro.


Copies furnished to:
Justice Peggy Quince
All Committee Members
Executive Director of the J.Q.C.
Office of the State Courts Administrator
Inquiring Judge (Name of inquiring judge deleted from this copy)