FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2007-13
Date of Issue: September 14, 2007

ISSUES

1.  May a judge, whose spouse plans to run for election to a nonpartisan public office, attend the spouse’s nonpartisan “meet and greet” campaign gatherings at the judge’s home and at the homes of friends and neighbors?

2.  May the judge appear as the candidate’s spouse in a family photograph to be used in the spouse’s campaign?

ANSWERS:
1.  No.
2.  Yes.

FACTS

The Inquiring Judge’s spouse intends to qualify for election to a nonpartisan public office in the town where the couple resides.

The Judge asks if it would be ethically proper to attend strictly nonpartisan “meet and greet” gatherings at the Judge’s home and at the homes of friends and neighbors.

The Judge also asks if it would be ethically permissible to appear in a family photograph to be used in the spouse’s political campaign, where there would be no reference to the candidate’s spouse as a “judge,” where the judge would make no comment on the issues, and where the Judge would not be involved in any fund-raising activities.

DISCUSSION

This inquiry involves the application of Canon 7 entitled, “A Judge or Candidate Shall Refrain From Inappropriate Political Activity.”

Canon 7 is intended to disentangle judges and judicial candidates from inappropriate political activity, including partisan activities and endorsing other candidates.  Canon 7A(1)(b) specifically prohibits a judge from publicly endorsing or publicly opposing other candidates for public office. This prohibition applies to all endorsements, whether by action or by words. The Supreme Court has explained that, despite good intentions, "Canon 7A is absolute in its prohibition of public endorsements of political candidates." In re Glickstein, 620 So. 2d 1000, 1002 (Fla. 1993).

This Committee recently addressed an inquiry where the inquiring judge was facing a contested re-election and was  married to an elected official. In that opinion, the Committee advised the judge that the judge’s spouse should not accompany the judge to campaign-related events, such an appearance being an implied endorsement. Fla. JEAC Op. 06-13.  The same advice applies to this inquiry.

Here, the Judge’s attending the spouse’s “meet and greet” gatherings would be a very clear and improper endorsement of the spouse’s candidacy.

The family photograph presents a different set of issues, and in several prior opinions, the JEAC has concluded that Canon 7 is not violated simply because a judge appears in a family photograph that is used in a spouse’s political campaign. JEAC Op. 06-13. Precautions can be taken by the judge to assure that a family photograph is not used in a way that becomes a violation of Canon 7.  In JEAC Opinions 98-19 and 90-07, this Committee cautioned that the judge’s office should not be mentioned and that no explicit endorsement be featured.  This Committee cannot anticipate all the possible campaign uses of a family photograph. Therefore, the Inquiring Judge must be vigilant to insure that the family photograph is not used in a way that violates Canon 7. 

Finally, this inquiry asks the Committee to advise as to “any and all limitations that may apply to the judge’s activities throughout the election cycle in this context.” Such a request is too broad to answer and is beyond this Committee’s jurisdiction, which is limited to rendering “advisory opinions to inquiring judges relating to the propriety of contemplated judicial and nonjudicial conduct.”  Petition of the Committee on Standards of Conduct Governing Judges, 698 So. 2d 834, 835 (Fla. 1997). For the general information sought in this part of the inquiry, the inquiring judge should review the JEAC publication, An Aid to Understanding Canon 7, July 2006 edition, available online at www.floridasupremecourt.org, under Public Information, Court Documents, Judicial Conduct.

REFERENCES

Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 7

In re Glickstein, 620 So. 2d 1000 (Fla. 1993).
Fla. JEAC Ops. 06-13, 98-19, 90-07

An Aid to Understanding Canon 7 (July 2006)

_____________

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 Lisa Davidson, Chair, Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, The Moore Justice  Center, 2825 Judge Fran Jamieson Way, Viera, FL 32940.

Participating Members:
Judge Robert T. Benton, II, Judge Lisa Davidson, Judge Kerry I. Evander, Judge T. Michael Jones, Judge Michael Raiden, Judge Jose Rodriquez, Judge Leslie B. Rothenberg, Judge McFerrin Smith, III, Judge Richard R. Townsend, Judge Dorothy Vaccaro, Marjorie Gadarian Graham, Esquire and Patricia Lowry, 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)