FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2013-21
Date of Issue: October 25, 2013

ISSUES

May the inquiring judicial candidate permit distribution of an endorsement letter co-signed and authored by an attorney, knowing that this attorney has already endorsed another judicial candidate in a different race?

ANSWER: Yes.

May the inquiring judicial candidate allow the same attorney to co-host a fundraiser to benefit the inquiring judicial candidate?

ANSWER: Yes.

What, if anything, should a judicial candidate allow an attorney to do for the campaign, given the attorney’s involvement with another judicial campaign?

ANSWER: In light of its limited charge, the Committee declines to answer this broad question.  The committee is restricted to responding to inquiries about the Code of Judicial Conduct from judges and judicial candidates only as they relate to specific conduct the judge or judicial candidate is contemplating.

FACTS

The inquiring judicial candidate1 states “[t]here is an attorney who is supporting another judicial candidate and [also] wants to support me.”  The inquiring judicial candidate reports the other judicial candidate is running in the same circuit but not in the same race.  While there is apparently some confusion about the exact role the attorney is playing in the other campaign, the attorney is publicly supporting the other candidate for judicial office. 

The inquiring judicial candidate is considering permitting the attorney to send out an endorsement letter co-signed and authored by the attorney.  The attorney also would like to co-host a fundraiser for the inquiring judicial candidate’s campaign, and the judicial candidate would like to allow this, too. 

 

DISCUSSION

Accepting the unsolicited endorsement of an attorney who is not a candidate for judicial office but also endorses another judicial candidate in another race would not violate the Code.  Florida’s Code of Judicial Conduct, Canon 7 applies to all judges and judicial candidates.  Canon 7C(1), of the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct provides:

A candidate . . . shall not personally solicit campaign funds, or solicit attorneys for publicly stated support, but may establish committees of responsible persons to secure and manage the expenditure of funds for the candidate's campaign and to obtain public statements of support for his or her candidacy. Such committees are not prohibited from soliciting campaign contributions and public support from any person or corporation authorized by law.

In Fla. JEAC Op. 08-12, the committee found it would not violate the Code for a candidate for election to judicial office to publish an endorsement the candidate received from a lawyer (even though the lawyer sometimes served as a code enforcement special master).

The Code does prohibit judges and candidates for judicial office from “publicly endors[ing] or publicly oppos[ing] another candidate for public office.”  Fla. Code of Jud. Conduct, Canon 7A(1)(b).  See Fla. JEAC Op. 07-13 (advising judge against endorsing spouse’s candidacy).  “Canon 7A is absolute in its prohibition of public endorsements of political [or other judicial] candidates.”  In re Glickstein, 620 So. 2d 1000, 1002 (Fla. 1993).  But the prohibition applies only to judges and judicial candidates, not their supporters who are neither judges nor candidates for judicial office.

We do not understand the present inquiry as reflecting any intention or proposal to campaign jointly with any other candidate.  The committee, in Fla. JEAC Op. 04-29, ruled it would violate the code for a judicial candidate to mail a brochure in an envelope containing other candidates’ brochures, even if a card  disclaiming endorsement were enclosed; and, in Fla. JEAC Op. 10-14, that it would be a violation for a judicial candidate to advertise on the side of a truck, which also displayed advertisements for other candidates.  On the other hand, we found no violation where two candidates merely traveled together to the same events on occasion.  See Fla. JEAC Op. 11-20.

The Code does not prohibit an attorney’s co-hosting a fundraiser for the benefit of one judicial candidate, even though the attorney is working in other ways (or in the same way in other venues at other times) for (an)other judicial or political candidate(s).  The Code prohibits judicial candidates from personally soliciting campaign funds under any circumstances, but authorizes committees of interested persons to raise campaign funds on the candidate’s behalf.  See Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 7C(1).

 

REFERENCES

Fla. Case:  In re Glickstein, 620 So. 2d 1000, 1002 (Fla. 1993). 

Fla. Code Jud. Conduct: Canon 7A(1)(b), 7C(1) & Definition Section.

Fla. JEAC Ops.:  11-20, 10-14, 08-12, 07-13 & 04-29.

_____________


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 to 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 Judge Roberto Arias, Chair, Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, Duval County Courthouse, 501 West Adams Street, Room 7180, Jacksonville, Florida 32202-4603.

Participating Members:
Judge Roberto Arias, Robert T. Benton, II, Dean Bunch, Esquire, Judge Jack Espinosa, Jr., Judge Jonathan D. Gerber, Judge T. Michael Jones, Judge Barbara Lagoa, Patricia E. Lowry, Esquire, Judge Michael Raiden, Judge Richard R. Townsend, Judge Dorothy L. Vaccaro.( Judge Lisa Davison did not participate in this decision).


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

 

1. The Code of Judicial Conduct defines candidate as “a person seeking selection for or retention in judicial office by election or appointment. A person becomes a candidate for judicial office as soon as he or she makes a public announcement of candidacy, opens a campaign account as defined by Florida law, declares or files as a candidate with the election or appointment authority, or authorizes solicitation or acceptance of contributions or support.”  Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Definition Section.