FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2012-20 (Election)1
Date of Issue: June 27, 2012

ISSUES

May a judicial candidate request that a representative attend a political party function to speak on behalf of the candidate, if the candidate is unable to attend and the speaking engagement is otherwise in compliance with Canon 7?

ANSWER: Yes.

FACTS

A judicial candidate has been invited to speak at a partisan political function. The event is not a fundraiser and all other judicial candidates have been invited to speak. The candidate is unable to personally attend because of a family emergency and would like to send a representative to speak on the candidate’s behalf.

    

 

DISCUSSION

Canon 7C(3) of the Code of Judicial Conduct permits a judicial candidate to attend a political party function to speak on behalf of his or her candidacy, so long as the event is not a fundraiser and the invitation to speak includes the other candidates to that office. The Code further limits the candidate’s conduct at such a forum. Although the Code authorizes a candidate to attend and speak, it is silent as to whether or not a candidate may ask a representative to attend in the candidate’s place.

This issue has not been previously addressed by this Committee nor by the Supreme Court. However, similar conduct was the subject of a Supreme Court reprimand of a judge engaging in prohibited partisan activity. In re: Angel, 867 So.2d 379 (Fla. 2004). Judge Angel was initially charged by the Judicial Qualifications Commission with thirteen violations of the Code, and stipulated with the Judicial Qualifications Commission that he committed seven violations. Four of the allegations, which were not admitted to by the judge nor included in a stipulation, concerned attendance at a political party function by the judge’s daughter. At two functions the daughter spoke and campaigned on behalf of the judge and at two other events the daughter spoke and campaigned and the opponent was not invited. This provides little guidance for the inquiry since the Judicial Qualifications Commission abandoned the allegations regarding the daughter’s attendance. However, one charge, which was admitted and was part of the stipulation, involved Judge Angel’s wife, who with his knowledge, attended and participated in a partisan “Meet the Candidate Night.” The judge’s wife assumed the opponent was invited, but the opponent was not invited and was not present.

The gist of Judge Angel’s transgressions, whether they were committed by him personally, or through his family, involved participating in regular partisan meetings, attending and speaking when an opponent was not invited, attending a partisan function supporting a partisan political candidate, or identifying himself as a member of a partisan political party. These are all in violation of Canon 7 and/or Section 105.071(1), Florida Statutes. It was the improper conduct of the judge or family member, not the presence of the judge or family member, that resulted in discipline.

Therefore, this Committee concludes that the Code does not prohibit the inquiring candidate from sending a representative to a partisan political function, so long as the function is not a fundraiser, the representative is speaking on behalf of the candidate, the invitation includes all other candidates, the representative does not engage in any partisan political activity, and the representative remains in full compliance with Canon 7. The candidate is cautioned that the representative cannot do on the candidate’s behalf what the candidate is prohibited from doing, and that the candidate may ultimately be held accountable for any improper conduct of the representative. 

 

REFERENCES

Florida Statutes, Section 105.071(1).

In re: Angel, 867 So. 2d 379 (Fla. 2004).

Code of Judicial Conduct: Canon 7C(3).

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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 Committee expresses no view on whether any proposed conduct of an inquiring judge is consistent with substantive law which governs any proceeding over which the inquiring judge may preside. The 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: Patricia E. Lowry, Esquire, Chair, Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, Squire, Sanders & Dempsey (US) LLP, 777 South Flagler Drive, Suite 1900 West, West Palm Beach, Florida 33401-6161.

Participating Members:
Judge Roberto Arias, Judge Robert T. Benton, Dean Bunch, Esquire, Judge Lisa Davidson, Judge Jonathan D. Gerber, Judge T. Michael Jones, Judge Barbara Lagoa, Patricia E. Lowry, Esquire, Judge Jose′ Rodriguez, Judge C. McFerrin Smith, III, Judge Richard R. Townsend, 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. Although the opinion was prepared by the Subcommittee on an expedited basis, it received full Committee review and approval before being issued. 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.