FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2010-32
Date of Issue: September 23, 2010

ISSUE

May a Judge participate in a program or skit for an American Inn of Court if the presenting group competes for a "best skit" award which includes a monetary contribution to a charity of the group's choice?

ANSWER: Yes.

FACTS

The inquiring judge is President of an American Inn of Court.  The American Inns of Court was established in 1985 to promote the goals of legal excellence, civility, professionalism and ethics in the legal profession. 

Each month a program is put on by a group composed of lawyers and judges.  As an incentive for quality programs, the inquiring judge has suggested that an award be presented for the best skit and that a $500.00 contribution be made to the winning group's charity of choice.  The contribution would not be made in the name of any particular judge or lawyer, but would be made in the name of the local Inn.  All voting would be anonymous and no reference would be made to any judge who was a member of the winning group.  One of the participating judges has expressed concern about the propriety of accepting such an award.

DISCUSSION

This Committee can find no Canon of the Code of Judicial Conduct, or any commentary contained therein, that would preclude this activity.

Canon 4B encourages judges to participate in quasi-judicial activities concerning the law and the legal system.  The contemplated activity involves conduct that concerns the law and the legal system.  Canon 4(A) provides that such conduct must not cast reasonable doubt on the judge's capacity to act impartially, undermine the judge's independence, integrity, or impartiality, demean the judicial office, interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties, lead to frequent disqualification, or appear to a reasonable person to be coercive.  The facts of this inquiry do not suggest any of the prohibitions set forth in Canon 4(A).  To the contrary, the judge's participation in the program is a type of quasi-judicial activity which is encouraged by Canon 4B.

This inquiry does not involve a participating judge's role in fund- raising.  The participating judge is not actively involved in a fundraising activity and is not utilizing the prestige of the judge's office to promote fundraising. The judge is merely designating a recipient of funds already in the coffers of the organization.

Finally, the inquiring judge, as an officer of an organization devoted to the improvement of the law and the legal system, may assist in the management and investment of the organization's funds.  However, the judge may not personally or directly participate in the solicitation of funds.

Therefore, the inquiring judge may ethically implement the suggested incentive program and the member judges may participate.

REFERENCES

Canon 4, Code of Judicial Conduct.

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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 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 Kerry I. Evander, Chair, Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, Fifth District Court of Appeal, 300 South Beach Street, Daytona Beach, Florida  32114-5002.

Participating Members:
Judge Roberto Arias, Judge Robert T. Benton II, Dean Bunch, Esquire, Judge Lisa Davidson, Judge Kerry I. Evander, Judge Jonathan D. Gerber, Judge T. Michael Jones, Patricia E. Lowry, Esquire, Judge José 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)