FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2007-20
Date of Issue: December 14, 2007

ISSUE

Whether a judge may attend a partisan ladies group monthly luncheon to address improvements in the law, the legal system and the administration of justice in the area of expediting permanency for children from foster care through adoption.

ANSWER: No.

FACTS

The Inquiring Judge was invited to address a partisan ladies groups monthly luncheon.  The Inquiring Judge was asked to speak on how to expedite permanent placement for children in foster care on their way to adoption.  The Inquiring Judge has a great deal of experience presenting on this subject “in a variety of forums, conferences, and summits,” but has never made a presentation “before a partisan group,” and asks whether speaking to such a group is consistent with the judicial canons.

DISCUSSION

Canon 4B of the Code of Judicial Conduct encourages a judge to speak, write, lecture, teach and participate in other quasi-judicial activities concerning the law, the legal system, the administration of justice, and the role of the judiciary as an independent branch within our system of government, subject to the requirements of this Code.  Among these requirements are those set out in Canon 7 of the Code of Judicial Conduct, which prohibits inappropriate political activity.  Specifically, Canon 7A(1)(d) prohibits a judge from attend[ing] political party functions, with exceptions not pertinent here.

We assume the partisan ladies group extending the invitation to the Inquiring Judge is a political party affiliate.  In JEAC Opinion 98-14, the Committee opined that judges are ethically precluded from appearing before partisan groups, even for educational purposes and again in JEAC Opinion 97-30, the Committee concluded that a judge may not speak to an organized political partisan group at any location…even if the subject matter of the speech is the judicial system.  See also Fla. JEAC Ops. 93-07 (Canon 7A of the Code of Judicial Conduct prohibits a judge from appearing and speaking at a local Republican Women's Club); 88-09 (Canon 7 does not permit a judge to speak at a partisan event, even though the judge plans to discuss the judicial system and the need for a new courthouse building, which might serve a purpose permissible under Canon 4); 87-16 (Canon 7 of the Code proscribes a judge's appearance at a political function to discuss the work of the courts, answer questions, and address legitimate concerns about the court system); 84-08 (opining that a judge should not be a speaker or otherwise participate in a gathering of members of a political party to speak about his job and answer questions about the courts and the judiciary); 74-03 (concluding it is unethical for a judge to appear at a partisan political meeting to explain the new judicial system).

This inquiry does not involve the recognized exception in Canon 7 pertaining to candidates for judicial office when every such candidate is invited to address the group at an event that is not a fundraiser.  See Fla. Code of Jud. Conduct, Canons 7B(2), 7C(2) and 7C(3); Fla. JEAC Ops. 83-13 (A[A] judge who is a candidate may attend and may speak [at a partisan political function]. A judge who is not a candidate may not@); 79-10 (opining that Canon 7 does not permit a judge, who is not a candidate, to attend partisan political functions for the purpose of socializing, speaking and/or being introduced to the audience); 78-06 (opining that a judge could address a Republican Club and speak on the judge=s candidacy for re-election, as long as the function was not a fund-raising event, and as long as the judge's remarks were not partisan or politically oriented).

While the Inquiring Judge=s desire to educate all citizens on the issue of permanency for children in foster care is to be commended, the Committee concludes that, with exceptions for judicial candidates not pertinent here, judges are prohibited from addressing partisan groups regardless of the subject matter.  Fla. JEAC Op. 98-14.

REFERENCES

Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canons 4B, 7, 7A(1)(d), 7B(2), 7C(2), 7C(3).

Fla. JEAC Ops.  98-14, 97-30, 93-07, 88-09, 87-16, 84-08, 83-13, 79-10, 78-06, 74-03.

_____________

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 Rodriguez,  Judge Leslie B. Rothenberg, Judge McFerrin Smith, Judge Richard R. Townsend, Judge Dorothy Vaccaro, 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)