FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2008-21
Date of Issue: October 13, 2008

ISSUES

(1) May a judge teach an educational/trial skills course at a Dependency Court Improvement Summit sponsored by the Department of Children and Families (DCF)?

ANSWER: Yes, provided the teaching activities do not cast reasonable doubt on the judge's capacity to act impartially.

(2)  May a judge participate in planning this course, without actually teaching it, by recommending areas of need and recruiting other practitioners to participate.

ANSWER: Yes, a judge may participate in planning the course, provided the planning is performed in such a manner as to not cast reasonable doubt on the judge's capacity to act impartially.  Furthermore, a judge may recommend the names of practitioners to teach the course, but the judge should not "recruit" the prospective teachers if doing so might reasonably be perceived as coercive.

FACTS

The inquiring judge asks whether the Code of Judicial Conduct prevents a judge from teaching an educational/trial skills course at a Dependency Court Improvement Summit.  The summit is sponsored by DCF and the courses would be open to all attorneys in attendance on a first come/first served basis.  The expected attendees for the course would include attorneys employed by DCF, private practitioners who frequently practice in dependency court, and attorneys who represent and/or serve as guardians.

The inquiring judge states that "despite the fact that the courses will be open to all, through discussion it appears that the areas of greatest need for training would also be of most assistance to the inexperienced attorneys for the Department of Children and Families."

Alternatively, the inquiring judge asks whether a judge may participate in planning the course, without actually teaching it, by recommending areas of need and recruiting other practitioners to teach.

DISCUSSION

In general, Canon 4 of the Code of Judicial Conduct authorizes judges to engage in activities to improve the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice.  Canon 4B specifically provides, "the judge may speak, write, lecture, teach and participate in other quasi-judicial activities concerning the law, the legal system, and administration of justice, . . . subject to the requirements of this Code."  While Canon 4 permits a judge to engage in various quasi-judicial activities involving the law, the Code requires that the activities not cast reasonable doubt on the judge's capacity to act impartially.  See Canon 4A(1).

In the past, this committee has opined that a judge may teach on a law-related subject at a community college's police academy (JEAC Op. 05-11), at a religious university (JEAC Op. 97-26), and at a seminar sponsored by the Academy of Florida Trial Lawyers and the University of West Florida (JEAC Op. 87-3).  The mere fact that inexperienced attorneys employed by DCF might appear to have the greatest need for the proposed course would not, by itself, create an appearance of impropriety, since the course is open to all comers.  However, the judge should ensure that the course is intended to provide an educational benefit for all attendees.  The course should not be designed or taught in a manner that would appear to constitute a training session for DCF attorneys.  To tailor the course solely for the benefit of DCF attorneys would tend to cast reasonable doubt on the judge's capacity to act impartially as a judge.

In participating in the planning of this educational course, the judge may recommend practitioners to teach the course.  However, the judge should not "recruit" the prospective teachers if doing so might reasonably be perceived as coercive.  See e.g. Canon 4D(2)(c).

REFERENCES

Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canons 4A(1); Canon 4B; Canon 4D(2)(c). 

JEAC Ops. 05-11; 97-26; 87-3.

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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 C. McFerrin Smith, III, Chair, Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, 101 N. Alabama Avenue, Suite 437, Deland, FL 32724.

Participating Members:
Judge Roberto Arias, Judge Robert T. Benton, Dean Bunch, Esquire, Judge Lisa Davidson, Judge Kerry I. Evander, Judge T. Michael Jones, Patricia E. Lowry, Esquire, Judge Jose Rodriguez,  Judge C. McFerrin Smith, III, Judge Richard R. Townsend, Judge Dorothy Vaccaro.


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)