FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2009-04
Date of Issue: February 24, 2009

ISSUE

Whether a judge may serve as an officer of the alumni association of a public university in Florida?

ANSWER: Yes.

FACTS

According to the inquiring judge, the alumni association’s “overall mission” is to provide support for the university’s “teaching, research, and service as determined by the . . . Board of Trustees by fostering and enhancing the relationship between” the university and “its alumni, students and friends.”

The office to which the inquiring judge aspires has duties that “do not include fundraising or soliciting of any kind,” according to the inquiring judge, who is already a member of the alumni association’s board of directors.

DISCUSSION

In response to past inquiries, the Committee has advised other inquiring judges that service on the board of trustees of a community college or of a public university (other than a public law school) runs afoul of Canon 5C(2), which provides in pertinent part:

A judge shall not accept appointment to a governmental committee or commission or other governmental position that is concerned with issues of fact or policy on matters other than the improvement of the law, the legal system, the judicial branch, or the administration of justice.

See Fla. JEAC Op. 03-21 and Fla. JEAC Op. 07-08.  But an alumni association, even of a public university, is properly viewed as a civic organization not conducted for profit. 

We have opined that what is now Canon 5C “permits a judge to participate in civic . . . activities which do not reflect adversely upon his impartiality nor interfere with the performance of his judicial duties,” and specifically “that certainly there is nothing in the Canons to prohibit . . . membership in the Florida State University Alumni Association.”  Fla. JEAC Op. 78-09.

Canon 5C(3) specifically authorizes judges to serve as officers of civic organizations not conducted for profit, but provides: 

(a) A judge shall not serve as an officer, director, trustee or non-legal advisor if it is likely that the organization
(i) will be engaged in proceedings that would ordinarily come before the judge, or
(ii) will be engaged frequently in adversary proceedings in the court of which the judge is a member or in any court subject to the appellate jurisdiction of the court of which the judge is a member.

Canon 5C(3)(b) provides that, as an officer of  a civic organization, a judge:

(i) may assist such an organization in planning fund-raising and may participate in the management and investment of the organization's funds, but shall not personally or directly participate in the solicitation of funds, except that a judge may solicit funds from other judges over whom the judge does not exercise supervisory or appellate authority;
(ii) shall not personally or directly participate in membership solicitation if the solicitation might reasonably be perceived as coercive;
(iii) shall not use or permit the use of the prestige of judicial office for fund-raising or membership solicitation.

In Fla. JEAC Op. 99-15, we opined that a judge may not be a guest speaker at an annual college alumni banquet, when the banquet is a fund-raiser. We have also cautioned judges against permitting the use of the judge’s name or photograph for fundraising purposes.  See Fla. JEAC Op. 97-28 & Fla. JEAC Op. 78-09.

In summary, although Canon 5 imposes certain restrictions, there is no canonical impediment to the inquiring judge’s contemplated service as an officer in the alumni association of a public university in Florida, so long as other requirements of the Code, including Canons 5A and 5C(3), are met.

REFERENCES

Florida Code of Judicial Conduct:
Canon 5, 5C, 5C(2), 5C(3), & 5C(3)a&b.

Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinions: 78-09, 97-28, 99-15, 03-21, and 07-08.

_____________

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 a 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. See 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. See Id.

The opinions of this Committee express no view on whether any proposed conduct of an inquiring judge is consistent with the substantive law which governs any proceeding over which the inquiring judge may preside.  This Committee only has authority to interpret the Code of Judicial Conduct, and therefore its opinions deal only with the issue of whether the proposed conduct violates a provision of that Code.

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)