FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2007-08
Date of Issue: May 2, 2007

ISSUE

May a judge accept a position on the board of trustees for a branch campus of a state university?

ANSWER: No.

FACTS

The inquiring judge has been nominated for a position on the Board of Trustees of a branch campus of a large state university.  All public universities in Florida operate under the authority of a single statewide Board of Governors, whose members are appointed by the Governor of Florida and confirmed by the State Senate.  Each individual university also possesses its own Board of Trustees, whose members are appointed by either the statewide board or the Governor.  The particular university involved in this inquiry has several branch campuses, each with its own five-member Board of Trustees.  According to the judge’s letter of inquiry these are nominated by the university President and approved by the university trustees.     

The judge states that the trustee position, if accepted, would not be so time-consuming as to compromise the judge’s ability to fulfill all judicial responsibilities.  The trustee position will not involve any manner of fundraising or solicitation, and the judge states that the branch campus “is not involved in significant litigation.”

DISCUSSION

In Fla. JEAC Op. 03-21 this Committee addressed virtually the same question (the institution was a public community college) and recommended that the judge decline the appointment.  We concluded that the proposed service would violate Canon 5C(2), which forbids judges from “accept[ing] appointment to a governmental committee or commission or other governmental position that is concerned with issues of fact or policy on matters other than the improvement of the law, the legal system, the judicial branch, or the administration of justice.”  The Committee recognized an exception for law schools, based on the Commentary to Canon 5C(2), as well as for private educational organizations, governed by Canon 5C(3).  In the present case the inquiring judge notes that the branch campus features a College of Business Administration that teaches, inter alia, business law.  However, the Committee concludes that this fact is not sufficient to bring the proposed activity within the scope of Canon 4D (which permits judges to serve as directors or trustees of “governmental agenc[ies] devoted to the improvement of the law.”).

REFERENCES

Fla. Code Jud. Conduct: Canons 4D, 5C(2), & 5C(3) and Commentary to Canon 5C(2).

Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinion: 03-21.

 

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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 Lisa Davidson, Judge T. Michael Jones, Judge Michael Raiden, Judge Jose Rodriquez, Judge Leslie B. Rothenberg, Judge McFerrin Smith, III, Judge Emerson R. Thompson, Jr. Judge Richard R. Townsend, Judge Dorothy Vaccaro, Patricia Lowry, Esquire, 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
Inquiring Judge (Name of inquiring judge deleted from this copy)