FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2008-09 (Election)1
Date of Issue: March 27, 2008

ISSUES

May a judge’s parents generate a letter soliciting campaign contributions for the judge’s re-election?

ANSWER: No.

FACTS

The Inquiring Judge is running for re-election.  The Judge’s parents wish to author and circulate a letter to their friends and acquaintances supporting their child’s candidacy and soliciting campaign contributions.  They would include in the letter an explanation of the maximum allowable contributions and advise the recipients to forward their checks to the Judge’s campaign treasurer.

DISCUSSION

Canon 7 applies to all incumbent judges and judicial candidates.  Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 7E. Canon 7C(1) provides that “[a] candidate…for a judicial office… shall not personally solicit campaign funds…, but may establish committees of responsible persons to secure and manage the expenditure of funds for the candidate’s campaign[.]”  Canon 7A(3)(a) requires a judicial candidate to “encourage members of the candidate’s family to adhere to the same standards of political conduct in support of the candidate as apply to the candidate[.]”  The Code of Judicial Conduct defines a member of the judge’s or candidate’s family to include “a spouse, child, grandchild, parent, grandparent, or other relative or person with whom the judge maintains a close familial relationship.”  Thus, the judge must encourage family members, including the judge’s parents, to refrain from personally soliciting campaign contributions via the proposed letter.  See also Inquiry Concerning a Judge, re Angel, 867 So. 2d 379 (Fla. 2004) (The Supreme Court of Florida publicly reprimanded a judicial candidate for, among other improprieties, permitting the judge’s spouse and family members to attend and campaign at partisan political gatherings.)

The Committee reminds the judge of the imprimatur of Canon 1, which states, “A judge should participate in… maintaining and enforcing high standards of conduct, and shall personally observe those standards so that the integrity and independence of the judiciary may be preserved.  The provisions of this Code should be construed and applied to further that objective.”

The Committee’s responsibility is to render opinions on the applicability of the Code of Judicial Conduct to proposed activity by a judge or judicial candidate.  The Committee does not render legal opinions regarding the constitutionality or enforceability of various provisions of the Code.

In JEAC Opinion 04-07, the inquiring judge asked whether it is permissible for a judicial candidate to directly solicit attorneys for financial support, following the decision of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Weaver v. Bonner, 309 F.3d 1312 (11th Cir. 2002), which declared unconstitutional a provision of the Georgia Code of Judicial Conduct which was substantially similar or identical to Florida's Canon 7C(1).  The JEAC in Opinion 04-07 states, in pertinent part:

The committee is aware of Weaver.  In Weaver, the Eleventh Circuit held that Georgia’s Canon 7B(2), which prohibits judicial candidates from personally soliciting campaign contributions and publicly stated support, is unconstitutional.  The Committee is expressly charged with rendering advisory opinions interpreting the application of the Code of Judicial Conduct to specific circumstances confronting or affecting a judge or judicial candidate.  Opinions are advisory to the inquiring party, to the Judicial Qualifications Commission, and to the judiciary at large.  Petition of the Committee on Standards of Conduct Governing Judges, 698 So. 2d 834 (Fla. 1997).  The Committee does not render legal opinions regarding the constitutionality or enforceability of various provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct and declines to do so in this case.  Fla. JEAC Op. 02-16.

REFERENCES

Fla. Code Jud. Conduct,  Definitions, Canons 7A(3), 7C(1), 7E.
Fla.  JEAC Ops.: 04-07, 02-16.
In Re Angel, 867 So. 2d 379 (Fla. 2004).

 

_____________


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 Lisa Davidson, Judge T. Michael Jones, and Patricia E. Lowry, Esquire


Copies furnished to:
Inquiring judge (Name of the Inquiring Judge deleted)
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

 

1. The Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee has appointed an Election Practices Subcommittee. The purpose of this subcommittee is to give immediate responses to campaign questions in instances where the normal Committee procedure would not provide a response in time to be useful to the inquiring candidate or judge. Opinions designated with the “(Election)” notation are opinions of the Election Practices Subcommittee of the Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, and have the same authority as an opinion of the whole Committee.