FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2011-03
Date of Issue: February 11, 2011

ISSUES

May a judge accept an award the Junior League has advertised it will bestow on the judge at a fundraising event?

ANSWER: No.

If not, may the judge’s spouse or someone else in the community accept the award on the inquiring judge’s behalf?

ANSWER: No.

FACTS

The inquiring judge agreed to be nominated to receive an award, but did not learn until later that the award was to be presented at a fundraising event for a civic organization.  Only after invitations to the event had already gone out indicating that the judge was to receive the award did the judge learn that the event was a fundraiser.

Other honorees in other fields will also be honored with awards at the event, a luncheon.  Given these circumstances, the judge inquires whether it would be permissible to attend and accept the award; and whether, if not, the Junior League can “present the award to my spouse or someone in the community who can accept for me.” 

The inquiring judge mentions the Junior League’s “volunteer work with a multitude of court related diversion programs and community based treatment programs.  In particular,” the inquiring judge writes, “their website indicates that [the Junior League] support[s] efforts to improve conditions at the . . . County Juvenile Detention Center and programs to prevent delinquency, the protection of children through reform of the foster care system and through providing a voice for children in the court system.

DISCUSSION

We have consistently advised judges against accepting awards or other honors at fundraising events for organizations except for law-related organizations where the “fund-raising event . . . concerns the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice, and the judge does not engage in the direct solicitation of funds.”  Fla. Code of Jud. Conduct, Commentary to Canon 4(D)(2).  See also Fla. JEAC Op. 10-33; JEAC Op. 09-07

The “law-related exception” was created “…to permit a judge to speak at, receive an award or other recognition at, be featured on the program of, and permit the judge’s title to be used in conjunction with an event of an organization or governmental entity devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system, the judicial branch, or the administration of justice.  However, if the event serves a fund-raising purpose, the judge may participate only if the event concerns the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice.”  In re Amendments to the Code of Judicial Conduct-Limitations on Judges’ Participation in Fund-Raising Activities, 983 So. 2d 550, 552 (Fla. 2008).  See also Fla. Code Jud. Conduct Canon 4(D)(2)(b).  “This change is intended to allow judges to participate in a law-related organization’s fundraiser only where the particular event serves a law-related purpose and the funds raised will be used for a law-related purpose.”  Fla. JEAC Op. 09-07.   

The Junior League is not a law-related organization within the meaning of the canon, nor does the fundraising event described in the inquiry concern the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice within the meaning of the canon.  See Fla. JEAC Op. 09-07

Apart from the “law-related” exception, a judge’s participation in a fundraiser as a guest of honor, featured speaker or other “draw” runs afoul of Canon 5, which forbids a judge to “use or permit the use of the prestige of judicial office for fund-raising.”  Fla. Code Jud. Conduct  Canon 5C(3)(b)(iii).  On this basis we advised a judge against accepting an award at an event even though “not advertised as a fundraiser” where a raffle was scheduled.  See Fla. JEAC Op. 10-33.  In another case, we answered no to the question whether “a judge may receive an award and be inducted into a County Women’s Hall of Fame at an annual luncheon where program advertisements have been sold to raise funds for the organization.”  Fla. JEAC Op. 99-09.   

This inquiry illustrates the importance of a judge’s ascertaining the circumstances in which the judge is to receive an award, speak, or appear as a guest of honor, before agreeing to do so.   While simply mailing the invitations can be seen as using the prestige of judicial office (to increase attendance at the fundraiser and so the proceeds), our opinions view participation in the program at the fundraiser as aggravating the situation.  See id.  

Substituting the judge’s spouse or other designee for the judge as a surrogate recipient of the award would not cure the problem.  It is the prestige of judicial office, not the actual appearance or charisma of the particular incumbent, that the canons prohibit being put to use in service of private interests (subject always to the “law-related” exception).  

REFERENCES

Florida Cases:  In re Amendments to the Code of Judicial Conduct-Limitations on Judges’ Participation in Fund-Raising Activities, 983 So. 2d 550, 552 (Fla. 2008).

Florida Code of Judicial Conduct: Commentary to Canon 4(D)(2); 4(D)(2)(b) & 5C(3)(b)(iii).  

Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinions: 99-09, 09-07 & 10-33.

_____________

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, Dean Bunch, Esquire, Judge Lisa Davidson, Judge Kerry I. Evander, Judge Jonathan D. Gerber, Judge T. Michael Jones, Patricia E. Lowry, Esquire, Judge Jose Rodriguez, Judge C. McFerrin Smith, III, Judge Richard R. Townsend, and 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)