FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2016-10 (Election)1
Date of Issue: July 20, 2016

ISSUE

May a Judicial candidate attend a candidate’s forum, sponsored by a political party, attendance to which is only available to those candidates who were not able to attend a previously held open forum, if the candidate’s opponent is not likewise invited to attend?

ANSWER: No.

FACTS

A political party sponsored a candidates’ forum wherein all candidates for election, including judicial candidates, were invited to attend and speak about their candidacies. The inquiring candidate was not able to attend the previously scheduled forum. The political party has now scheduled another forum wherein all candidates for elective office who were unable to attend the previous forum are invited to attend. However, those candidates who were able to attend the first forum are not invited to attend the second forum. The question posed herein is whether the inquiring candidate may attend the second forum when the candidate’s opponent is not also invited.

 

DISCUSSION

The proposed appearance is governed by Canon 7C(3) of the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct, which provides in relevant part:

A judicial candidate involved in an election or re-election ... may attend a political party function to speak in behalf of his or her candidacy ... The functions may not be a fund raiser, and the invitation must also include the other candidates, if any, for that office ... A judicial candidate attending a political party function must avoid conduct that suggests or appears to suggest support of or opposition to a political party, a political issue, or another candidate.

This Canon clearly imposes the condition that “all candidates must be invited to speak.” Fla. JEAC Ops. 14-08; 12-25; 10-20. Here, the “make-up” forum is not open to the inquiring judge’s opponent(s). To appear at this forum is not only prohibited by the plain language of the Canon, but the candidate’s exclusive attendance at the forum, without the opponent(s) being present, will also give the appearance or suggest that the candidate supports the political party and/or vice versa. Therefore, the inquiring candidate may not attend the forum unless the opponent(s) are similarly invited.

The candidate is reminded that in the event the candidate is unable to attend a speaking engagement that is in compliance with Canon 7, the candidate may always send a representative to speak on behalf of the candidate. Fla. JEAC Op. 12-20.

 

REFERENCES

Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 7C(3).
Fla. JEAC Ops. 14-08; 12-25; 12-20; 10-20.

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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 Judge Spencer D. Levine, Chair, Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, Fourth District Court of Appeal, 1525 Palm Beach Lakes Blvd., West Palm Beach, FL 33401

Participating Members:
Judge Roberto Arias, Judge Nina Ashenafi-Richardson, Judge W. Joel Boles, Judge Lisa Davidson, Judge Miguel de la O, Judge James A. Edwards, Mark Herron, Esquire, Judge Barbara Lagoa, Judge Spencer D. Levine, Judge K. Douglas Henderson, Patricia E. Lowry, Esquire, Judge Michael Raiden.


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

 

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. 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.