FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2012-23 (Election)
Date of Issue: July 23, 2012

ISSUES

May a judicial candidate who is not a judge pay a sponsorship fee to a nonpartisan organization to enable the candidate to attend a conference of the organization to pass out campaign literature and speak at the event?

ANSWER: Yes.

 

FACTS

The inquiring judicial candidate is not a judge and has been invited to a conference of an organization which will focus on educating and motivating women of color to lead organizations, launch effective campaigns, and take full advantage of technology in today’s marketplace.  The organization is not a political party nor a partisan political organization. In order to attend, pass out literature, and speak at the event, the candidate must pay a sponsorship fee. The facts submitted by the inquiring candidate do not indicate whether or not this event is a fundraiser.

    

 

DISCUSSION

Judicial candidates and judges are subject to the requirement of Canon 7, which generally provides that judicial candidates and judges should refrain from inappropriate political activity.  This Canon is concerned with participation in political organizations, political party functions, and political events.  For example, a candidate for election to judicial office cannot attend a political party function unless the function is not a fundraiser, the candidate is invited to speak, and all other candidates are invited.  Furthermore, Canon 7 prohibits candidates for judicial office from making contributions to political organizations or purchasing tickets for political party dinners.  Therefore, if the described event were a partisan political function, the candidate could not attend.  However, from the facts presented to the Committee, this organization is not a political party and the conference is not a partisan political event. Therefore, the proscriptions set forth in Canon 7 do not apply.

In Fla. JEAC Op. 10-30, this Committee advised that a judicial candidate, who was not a judge, could attend a candidates’ forum which invited all candidates and required a $200 fee for the candidate to have a table and pass out campaign information.  The forum was nonpartisan and this Committee concluded that whether or not the event was a fundraiser was irrelevant, because the inquiring candidate was not a judge.  That opinion relied upon In re Kinsey, 842 So. 2d 77 (Fla. 2003), which held that Canon 7 of the Code of Judicial Conduct is the only canon applicable to judicial candidates who are not judges.  See also Fla. JEAC Op. 10-23 (non-judge judicial candidate may wear a campaign badge and distribute literature while attending a nonpartisan fundraising event); Fla. JEAC Op. 10-14 (non-judge judicial candidate could participate in a walkathon to raise funds for a charitable organization while wearing a shirt advertising the campaign).  This Committee consistently has advised judicial candidates who are not judges that they may be actively involved in fundraising events, because they are subject to only the restraints of Canon 7.

Fla. JEAC Op. 2011-15 receded from the foregoing opinions, but only to the extent that the language in those opinions could be construed to prohibit a judicial candidate who is a judge from being a hole sponsor at a charitable nonpartisan event (a golf tournament) and the judge is not featured at the event.  In all other respects, the foregoing opinions are persuasive precedent.

Therefore, because the inquiring candidate is not a judge, the event does not involve a political party, and the event itself is nonpartisan, the candidate may pay the sponsorship fee to attend, pass out literature, and speak on behalf of his or her candidacy.

    

 

REFERENCES

In re Kinsey, 842 So. 2d 77 (Fla. 2003).

Code of Judicial Conduct Canon 7.

Fla. JEAC Ops. 2011-15, 10-30, 10-23, 10-14.

_____________


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 C. McFerrin Smith, III, Judge Richard R. Townsend, and Judge Dorothy Vaccaro.


Copies furnished to:
Inquiring judge (Name of the Inquiring Judge deleted)
Justice Charles T. Canady
Thomas D. Hall, Clerk of Supreme Court
All Committee Members
Executive Director of the J.Q.C.
Office of the State Courts Administrator