FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2006-19 (Election)
Date of Issue: August 8, 2006

ISSUES

Whether the inquiring judge who is not seeking election may attend a “nonpartisan” political function, sponsored by a political party, in order to socialize and listen to the political candidates’ speeches?

ANSWER: No.

FACTS

The inquiring judge, who is not seeking election, wishes to attend a  political function in order to listen to political candidates’ speeches and to socialize.  The rally is “nonpartisan” in the sense that candidates from other parties are invited to speak but is sponsored by a political party.  The rally is not a fundraiser. 

DISCUSSION

Canon 7D prohibits an incumbent judge from engaging “in any political activity except (i) as authorized under any other Section of the Code [of Judicial Conduct], (ii) on behalf of measures to improve the law, the legal system or the administration of justice, or (iii) as expressly authorized by law.”  
           
Canon 7A(1)(d), Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, provides that a judge or a candidate for election or appointment to judicial office shall not attend political party functions with three (3) exceptions.  Sections 7B(2), 7C(2) and 7C(3) authorize minimal, limited contact with political party functions.  However,  none of these exceptions apply to the inquiring judge’s inquiry. 

The inquiring judge is not planning to attend the party-sponsored political activity as an invited judicial candidate, nor is the judge planning on speaking on any issues that pertain to the improvement of the law, the legal system or the administration of justice.  He/She only plans on being a spectator and promises that he/she would do nothing to indicate a preference or endorsement of any candidate. 

Irrespective of the inquiring judge’s good intentions, this conduct is clearly prohibited by our Canons since the mere presence at the event in the capacity of a “spectator” could potentially give the appearance of support for a political party. 

This Committee therefore unanimously agrees that no exceptions to Canon 7D permit such conduct.  The rules of judicial conduct are statewide and must be applied consistently and uniformly to all individuals who choose this profession.

The Commentary of Canon 2A points out that a judge must accept the restrictions imposed “on the judge’s conduct that might be viewed as burdensome by the ordinary citizen and should do so freely and willingly.”  Canons 1 and 2 hold a judge to a higher standard in order to “promote[] public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary,” as well as preserving the independence of our judiciary.   For these reasons, the inquiring judge cannot attend any political party functions under these specific set of facts.

REFERENCES

Florida Code Judicial Conduct, Canons 1, 2A, 7A(1)(d), 7B(2), 7C(2), 7C(3),  7D and Commentary to Canon 2A.

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

 

Participating Members:
Judge Robert T. Benton, II, Judge Terry Michael Jones, Judge Lisa Davidson, Judge Michael Raiden, Judge Jose Rodriguez, Judge McFerrin Smith, III, Judge Leslie B. Rothenberg,  Judge Emerson R. Thompson, Jr., Judge Richard R. Townsend, Judge Dorothy L. Vaccaro, Patricia Lowry, Esquire, and Marjorie Gadarian Graham, Esquire.


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