FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2006-15 (Election)1
Date of Issue: June 23, 2006

ISSUES

Whether the inquiring judge/candidate may attend either of two candidate round ups, sponsored by a local political party’s women’s federation, if no one is invited to speak at one event, but candidates are invited to speak at the second event.

ANSWER: No. The candidates may not attend a candidate round up where they are not invited to speak on behalf of their candidacy.

FACTS

The local Federation of Republican Women has invited the inquiring candidate and opponent to a Candidate Round Up. The invitation states that there will be no opportunity to speak at that event.  It is "a day for all to meet/talk together and get to know each other."  "There will not be any candidate speakers."  There is a later, second event sponsored by this group where candidates are invited to attend and to speak and answer questions from the audience.

DISCUSSION

Canon 7 of the Code of Judicial Conduct governs this inquiry. Canon 7 reads in pertinent part:

A JUDGE OR CANDIDATE FOR JUDICIAL OFFICE SHALL REFRAIN FROM INAPPROPRIATE POLITICAL ACTIVITY
A. All Judges and Candidates... shall not:
….
(d) attend political party functions;
C(3) A candidate involved in an election or re-election...may attend a political party function to speak in behalf of his or her candidacy or on a matter that relates to the law, the improvement of the legal system, or the administration of justice. The function must not be a fund raiser, and the invitation to speak must also include the other candidates, if any, for that office. The candidate should refrain from commenting on the candidate's affiliation with any political party or other candidate... A candidate attending a political party function must avoid conduct that suggests or appears to suggest support of or opposition to a political party, a political issue, or another candidate. Conduct limited to that described above does not constitute participation in a partisan political party activity.

In JEAC Opinion 2000-26 this committee observed that over the years, the Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee (Committee) has considered several inquiries concerning attendance at political party functions. In the interim, the Committee and the Supreme Court have attempted to fashion the language of Canon 7 so that its dictates will be quite specific in terms of partisan political activities. See, e.g., In re Code of Judicial Conduct, 675 So. 2d 111 (Fla. 1996). Nevertheless, questions continue to arise.

Years ago, the JEAC advised that a judicial candidate may not go to the premises upon which a political party is holding a political meeting for the purpose of meeting and greeting delegates where the candidate, and others, have not been invited for the purpose of speaking on behalf of their candidacy. See Fla. JEAC Op. 90-16. Several years later, the Committee addressed an inquiry that built upon Opinion 90-16. In Opinion 96-20, the inquiring candidate wanted to attend partisan political meetings "which are open to the public." The candidate wanted to distribute campaign literature and speak one on one to attendees. The Committee unanimously agreed that Canon 7C(3) forbade such conduct. The Committee pointed out that such conduct "does not fit into an exception under which a judge or candidate may 'attend political party functions.'" Specifically, the Committee noted that the candidate had not been invited to speak on behalf of the candidacy on a matter that related to the law, the improvement of the legal system, or the administration of justice.
JEAC Opinion 2004-31 reaffirmed the principle that the last sentence of Canon 7C(3) effectively limits a judicial candidate's partisan political party activity to those items specifically described therein.

Therefore, it is very clear from this inquiry that neither candidate may properly attend the candidate round up where the candidates are not invited to speak. If no other provision of the Code is involved, the second round up does not appear to have this limitation.

REFERENCES

Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 7

Fla. JEAC Op. 90-16, 96-20, 2000-26, 2004-31.

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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 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: Judge Robert Benton, Chair, Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, 301 S. MLK Jr. Blvd., Tallahassee, FL 32399.

Participating Members:
Judge Robert Benton, Judge McFerrin Smith, III, and Judge Dorothy Vaccaro.


Copies furnished to:
Inquiring judge (Name of the Inquiring Judge deleted)
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

1.The Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee has appointed an Election Practices Subcommittee. The purpose of this subcommittee is to give 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 whole Committee.