FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2010-22 (Election)1
Date of Issue: July 1, 2010

ISSUE I

May the judicial candidate’s spouse be a member of a major political party’s executive committee?

ANSWER: Yes, subject to the provisions of Canons 7A and 7C, and so long as the candidate takes care not to inject partisan politics into the campaign.

ISSUE II

May the judicial candidate’s spouse speak on behalf of the candidate outside of the political meetings of the political party’s executive committee?

ANSWER: Yes, subject to the provisions of Canons 7A and 7C, and so long as the candidate takes care not to inject partisan politics into the campaign.

ISSUE III

May the judicial candidate’s spouse host lunches outside of any formal meetings of the political party’s executive committee for the spouse’s friends on the committee and at the same time campaign for the candidate?

ANSWER: Yes, subject to the provisions of Canons 7A and 7C, and so long as the candidate takes care not to inject partisan politics into the campaign.

ISSUE IV

May the judicial candidate’s spouse campaign for the candidate at non-political functions that the candidate and the spouse attend together?

ANSWER: Yes, subject to the provisions of Canons 7A and 7C, and so long as the candidate takes care not to inject partisan politics into the campaign.

ISSUE V

May the judicial candidate’s spouse campaign for the candidate at functions that the candidate’s opponent and the candidate attend jointly and are asked to speak?

ANSWER: Yes, subject to the provisions of Canons 7A and 7C, and so long as the candidate takes care not to inject partisan politics into the campaign.

 

FACTS

The inquiring judicial candidate asks a number of questions regarding activities that the candidate’s spouse may engage in with respect to the candidate’s campaign for judicial office.

DISCUSSION

Applicable Sections of the Code of Judicial Conduct:

Canon 7 of the Code of Judicial Conduct dictates that a candidate for judicial office shall refrain from inappropriate political activity. 

Canon 7A(3)(b) provides that a candidate for a judicial office “shall maintain the dignity appropriate to judicial office and act in a manner consistent with the impartiality, integrity, and independence of the judiciary, and shall 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.” 

Subsection (d) of Canon 7A(3) provides that “except to the extent permitted by Section 7C(1),” a candidate for a judicial office “shall not authorize or knowingly permit any other person to do for the candidate what the candidate is prohibited from doing under the Sections of this Canon.”

Canon 7C(1) sets forth those activities which another person may do for the candidate, specifically, “[a] candidate, including an incumbent judge, for a judicial office that is filled by public election between competing candidates shall not personally solicit campaign funds, or solicit attorneys for publicly stated support, but may establish committees of responsible persons to secure and manage the expenditure of funds for the candidate’s campaign and to obtain public statement of support for his or her candidacy.  Such committees are not prohibited from soliciting campaign contributions and public support from any person or corporation authorized by law.”

Canon 7E provides that Canon 7 applies to all incumbent judges and judicial candidates.  A lawyer who is a candidate for judicial office is also subject to Rule 4-8.2(b) of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar.

Issue I:

May the judicial candidate’s spouse be a member of a major political party’s executive committee?2

Yes.  The Code of Judicial Conduct does not directly extend to the inquiring candidate’s spouse.  Fla. JEAC Op. 98-03; see also Fla. JEAC Op. 94-21 (“judge’s spouse free to politic free from the constraints that apply to the judge”).  The candidate is however under an affirmative obligation to encourage family members to comport with the requirements of the Code.  Canon 7A(3)(b).

Although Canon 7A prohibits a candidate from acting as a leader in a political organization, the Committee does not believe that the Code intends to prohibit a candidate’s spouse from acting as a leader in a political organization, such as serving on a political party’s executive committee.  Indeed, the Commentary to Canon 7A(3)(b) states that “[a]lthough a judicial candidate must encourage members of his or her family to adhere to the same standards of political conduct in support of the candidate that apply to the candidate, family members are free to participate in other political activity.”  The Commentary to Canon 7C also provides however that “Any political activity engaged in by members of a judge’s family should be conducted in the name of the individual family member, entirely independent of the judge and without reference to the judge or to his office.”

The candidate does not make clear in the inquiry whether the spouse is already a member of the political party’s executive committee or would just now be joining that committee.  The Committee cautions the judicial candidate to encourage any family member including a spouse who has a role in partisan political activities to avoid engaging in any activity with or on behalf of the candidate which might give the appearance that a political party or organization endorses or otherwise supports the judicial candidacy.  See Section 105.071, Florida Statutes.  Fla. JEAC Op. 98-03.  See also Fla. JEAC Op. 98-19 (political candidate should take great care in appearing in photographs with legislator spouse, so as not to give the appearance of being a member of any political party or that candidate was endorsed by any political party).  The Committee also reminds the candidate of the seriousness of injecting party politics into the candidate’s campaign, and refers the candidate to the Supreme Court of Florida’s opinion in In re: Alley, 699 So. 2d 1369 (Fla. 1997). 

Further, to the extent the candidate’s spouse is joining the political party’s executive committee simultaneously with the launch of the candidate’s campaign, the Committee is concerned that the joining of the party’s executive committee is being done for the purpose of injecting party politics or for seeking the party’s endorsement and would advise against it for that reason.  See, e.g. Canon 7A(3)(d); In re: Angel, 867 So. 2d 379 (Fla. 2004) (The Supreme 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.)  If however the spouse has already been active in the party and there is no suggestion that the joining of the executive committee is for the purpose of doing something indirectly that the candidate could not do directly, then the Committee believes that the spouse may properly continue to engage in political activities subject to the provisions of Canon 7. 

Issue II:

May the judicial candidate’s spouse speak on behalf of the candidate outside of the political meetings of the party’s executive committee?

Yes.  The Code does not appear to prohibit this kind of conduct by a judicial candidate’s spouse.  In Fla. JEAC Op. 98-03, this Committee advised that a judicial candidate’s spouse, who serves as a member of the Florida legislature, was not prohibited from mentioning the candidate’s campaign to other colleagues or constituents, as well as from answering questions about the candidate’s campaign. 

Again the Committee cautions the candidate to encourage any family member including a spouse to avoid engaging in any activity on behalf of the candidate which might give the appearance that a political party or organization endorses or otherwise supports the judicial candidacy.  Further, the candidate should encourage the spouse to adhere to the same standards of political conduct in support of the candidate as apply to the candidate, including maintaining the dignity appropriate to judicial office and acting in a manner consistent with the impartiality, integrity, and independence of the judiciary.

Issue III:

May the judicial candidate’s spouse host lunches outside of any formal meetings of the political party’s executive committee for the spouse’s friends on the committee and at the same time campaign for the candidate?

Yes.  See response to Issue II above.

Issue IV:

May the judicial candidate’s spouse campaign for the candidate at non-political functions that the candidate and the spouse attend together?

Yes.  In Fla. JEAC Op. 98-03, the Committee advised that a judicial candidate may attend non-partisan legislative events such as the opening day of the legislative session, an open house sponsored by the Governor, and the like, along with the candidate’s state legislator spouse.  The Committee cautioned however that the candidate must at all times maintain the dignity appropriate to judicial office and act in a manner consistent with the integrity and independence of the judiciary.

For the reasons stated in response to Issue II above, the Committee opines that the spouse is not prohibited from campaigning for the judicial candidate at such non-political functions.  Again, however, the Committee cautions the candidate to encourage the spouse to avoid engaging in any activity on behalf of the candidate which might give the appearance that a political party or organization endorses or otherwise supports the judicial candidacy.  Further, the candidate should encourage the spouse to adhere to the same standards of political conduct in support of the candidate as apply to the candidate, including .maintaining the dignity appropriate to judicial office and acting in a manner consistent with the impartiality, integrity, and independence of the judiciary.

Issue V:

May the judicial candidate’s spouse campaign for the candidate at functions that the candidate’s opponent and the candidate attend jointly and are asked to speak?

Yes.  See response to Issue IV above.  The Committee also cautions the judicial candidate that Canon 7C(3) provides that while attending such an event, the “candidate should refrain from commenting on the candidate’s affiliation with any political party or other candidate, and should avoid expressing a position on any political issue.”  Further, a “judicial candidate attending a political party function must avoid conduct that suggests or appears to suggest support of or opposition to a political party, a political issue, or another candidate.”  Accordingly, the Committee advises the judicial candidate to encourage the candidate’s spouse also to avoid any such conduct when they are attending such functions together.

 

REFERENCES

Florida Statutes, Section 105.071.

In re: Angel, 867 So. 2d 379 (Fla. 2004)
In re: Alley, 699 So. 2d 1369 (Fla. 1997)

Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canons 7, 7(A)(3)(b), 7(A)(3)(d), 7(C)(1), 7(C)(3), 7(E).

Fla. JEAC Ops. 98-19, 98-03, 94-21

Rules Regulating The Florida Bar, Rule 4-8.2(b)

_____________


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.

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 T. Michael Jones, Chair, Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, 190 Governmental Center, M.C. Blanchard Judicial Building, Pensacola, Florida  32502.

Participating Members:
(Election Subcommittee): Judge Robert T. Benton II, Patricia E. Lowry, Esquire, and Judge Dorothy Vaccaro


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.

2 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.