FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2007-15
Date of Issue: October 2, 2007

ISSUE

May a county judge who is a member of the local canvassing board accept an offer from the supervisor of elections to reimburse the judge or otherwise help defray expenses for a seminar on the law applicable to canvassing boards?

ANSWER: Yes.

FACTS

The Inquiring Judge is a county judge who currently sits on the local canvassing board.  The county canvassing board is a creature of statute, specifically section 102.141, Florida Statutes.  Under normal circumstances, a county judge sits as chair of the board and the other two members are the Supervisor of Elections and the chair of the board of county commissioners (and there are provisions detailing how a vacancy is filled if one or more members is disqualified).  The statute further sets forth, in considerable detail, the various duties of the board.  Though the board’s principal responsibility is certifying the vote tally in each county, the established procedures are carefully detailed.

Later this year, the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections will be sponsoring a daylong workshop for interested canvassing board members.  The Office of the State Courts Administrator has vetted this course and authorized continuing judicial education hours for the judges who attend.  The Inquiring Judge’s local Supervisor of Elections has offered to pay the workshop fee for anyone interested in attending, including the Judge and the county commission member, as well as to provide transportation to the out-of-county event.

DISCUSSION

Given the increasing complexity of election laws and the heightened scrutiny being imposed on the tallying of votes, a thorough understanding of election laws would greatly benefit anyone serving on a canvassing board – in fact, may fairly be described as indispensable.  We note that the promotional letter for this particular seminar points out new election reforms passed by the 2007 Florida Legislature, such that even an experienced board member might perceive the need for an update.  The Inquiring Judge’s main concern is whether it is appropriate to permit the Supervisor of Elections to assist in defraying the cost of attending the seminar. 

Canon 6A permits a judge to “receive compensation and reimbursement of expenses for the quasi-judicial and extrajudicial activities permitted by this Code, if the source of such payments does not give the appearance of influencing the judge in the performance of judicial duties or otherwise give the appearance of impropriety.”[Emphasis supplied.]  In the view of this Committee, the Supervisor’s proposal for reimbursement presents no outward appearance of impropriety.  Under the statute, the courts and the election supervisors serve as coequals, along with county commissioners, not opposing parties.  All are sworn to perform their duties diligently and impartially.  Their decisions, including interpretations of law if necessary, occur in open meetings, are a matter of public record, and are reviewable if properly challenged.

REFERENCES

Canon 6A, Fla. Code Jud. Conduct.

§ 102.141, Fla. Stat. (2006)

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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 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 Michael Raiden, Judge Lisa Davidson, Judge Kerry I. Evander, Judge McFerrin Smith, Judge Leslie B. Rothenberg, Judge Richard R. Townsend, Judge Dorothy Vaccaro, Judge T. Michael Jones, Marjorie Gadarian Graham, Esquire & Patricia E. 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)