FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2014-18
Date of Issue: August 5, 2014

ISSUE

May a candidate for election to judicial office place an advertisement on a moving advertising truck with a LED digital billboard, on which the judicial candidate’s advertisement appears by itself, but in a rotation with other partisan campaign advertisements?

ANSWER: Yes.

FACTS

The candidate for election to judicial office desires to advertise the candidate’s candidacy on a LED digital billboard on a mobile or moving advertising truck. The candidate’s campaign logo would be placed in rotation with several other advertisements on the digital LED billboard on the moving truck. Only one advertisement will appear on the screen at any one time. The candidate’s advertisement will appear about every fifth time through the rotation, and will be displayed for a few seconds before the next advertisement in the rotation appears. The rotation for advertisements includes separate advertisements for other local, partisan candidates for such offices as the county commission and state legislature.

DISCUSSION

Canon 7A(1)(b), Florida Code of Judicial Conduct, prohibits judges and judicial candidates from publicly endorsing or publicly opposing another candidate for office. The Committee has previously written that various forms of advertisements are prohibited by the code because they may give voters the impression that judicial candidates are working together, and share judicial and perhaps, political philosophies in contravention of Canon 7A(1)(b). See JEAC Op. 2004-29 (Judicial candidate may not mail campaign brochures in same envelope with other candidates in order to save money even if each candidate encloses a disclaimer card stating that the candidates are not endorsing each other because this impermissibly creates the appearance of running as part of a slate); JEAC Op. 2012-19 (Judicial candidate should direct supporter who serves at the pleasure of the candidate to remove judicial candidate’s campaign sign from the supporter’s vehicle if the supporter is also displaying a partisan candidate’s campaign sign on the supporter’s vehicle because this could leave the impression that the candidates are running as a slate).

In Judicial Ethics Advisory Opinion 2010-14, the inquiring judge asked, “May a judicial candidate place an advertisement on the side of a moving advertising truck which would also display other advertisements for other candidates for elected office?” The Committee opined in 2010-14 that sharing advertising space with other candidates would impermissibly create the appearance that a judicial candidate was running as part of a slate. The Committee further explained that “there would be a risk that the judicial candidate would appear to be running for office as a member of a political party if the other advertisements on the truck were for candidates all running as members of the same political party.”

In the current inquiry, the advertisements on the LED digital billboard rotate and are displayed separately, so there is no suggestion of endorsement by one candidate by the other, or vice versa. The factual scenario is the same as a digital LED billboard posted along some of Florida’s highways that rotate advertisements, with the only difference being that this digital billboard is on a moving truck rather than erected on poles on the side of the road. The proposed advertisement is also similar to the rotation of advertisements on a movie screen prior to a movie beginning at a theater. There is no danger of the public confusing this type of advertisement as a slate or a candidate’s endorsement of other candidates’ partisan campaigns because the advertisements are viewed independently and separately of each other.

In Judicial Ethics Advisory Opinion 2010-14, facts were not provided in the opinion as to the specific type of moving advertising truck involved. Therefore, the Committee clarifies 2010-14. The Committee opines that it is ethically permissible under Canon 7A(1)(b) for a judicial candidate to advertise on a moving advertising trucks that carries or affixes a LED digital screen and displays the advertisements on the screen in rotation, separately from the other advertisements. However, a traditional type of moving advertising truck where the advertisements are displayed in a stationary position on the truck and the public views all of the advertisements at the same time violates Canon 7A(1)(b) because the candidates may appear to be running as part of a slate or sharing similar political or judicial views.

REFERENCES

Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 7A(1)(b).

Fla. JEAC Ops. 2004-29, 2010-14, 2012-19.

Fla. JEAC Ops. 80-8, 83-7, 84-13, 90-20, 93-5, 94-11, 94-44, 97-17, 97-24, 99-09, 99-15, 00-09, 01-06, 01-09, 03-15, 05-09, 08-17, 08-20, 09-07, 10-33, 11-06, 11-19, 13-06.

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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 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.    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 Petition of the Committee on Standards of Conduct Governing Judges, 698 So. 2d 834 (Fla. 1997).

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 whether the proposed conduct violates a provision of that Code.

For further information, contact Dean Bunch, Chair, Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, 3600 Maclay Boulevard, South, Suite 202, Tallahassee, Florida 32312.

Participating Members:
Judge Roberto Arias, Judge Nina Ashenafi-Richardson, Judge Robert T. Benton, Dean Bunch, Esquire, Judge Lisa Davidson, Judge Jack Espinosa, Jr., Judge Jonathan D. Gerber, Judge T. Michael Jones, Judge Barbara Lagoa, Patricia E. Lowry, Esquire, Judge Michael Raiden, and Judge Richard R. Townsend.


Copies furnished to:
Inquiring judge (Name of the Inquiring Judge deleted)
Justice Charles T. Canady, Justice Liaison
John A Tomasino, Clerk of Supreme Court
All Committee Members
Executive Director of the Judicial Qualifications Committee
Office of the State Courts Administrator