FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2011-09
Date of Issue: July 1, 2011

ISSUE

May a civil traffic infraction hearing officer remain in that position while campaigning for election as a county judge?

ANSWER: Because the civil traffic infraction hearing officer proposes to seek election to a judicial position, there is nothing in the Code of Judicial Conduct which requires the hearing officer to resign or submit a resignation.  However, the Committee expresses no opinion on whether any statute may require resignation or any other action as a condition to seeking election to the judicial position.

FACTS

The inquiring civil traffic infraction hearing officer asks whether it is permissible to remain in that position while campaigning for, and receiving campaign funds in support of a campaign for, county judge.

DISCUSSION

The applicable section of the Code of Judicial Conduct provides that the Code applies to traffic magistrates, with certain exceptions.  Canon 7, which governs campaign activities, is not within any of the exceptions and thus a traffic magistrate must comply with all provisions of Canon 7.

Canon 7(2) requires that a judge must resign from judicial office upon becoming a candidate for a non-judicial office.  Therefore, the Code does not require the Inquiring Hearing Officer to resign from office to seek the judicial office of county judge.

The Inquiring Hearing Officer recites Sections 99.012 and 99.021, Florida Statutes, as being potentially pertinent to the question posed.  Portions of these statutes, under certain circumstances, address the requirement that public officers must resign from a position in order to be a candidate for elective office. The Committee notes that its jurisdiction is limited to issuing opinions concerning the Code of Judicial Conduct.  The Committee expresses no opinion concerning whether the proposed conduct violates the statutory provisions mentioned in the inquiry, or any other statute.

REFERENCES

Code of Judicial Conduct:  Canons 7(2).

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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, Dean Bunch, Esquire, Judge Lisa Davidson, Judge Kerry I. Evander, Judge Jonathan D. Gerber, Patricia Lowry, Esquire, Judge T. Michael Jones, 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)