FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2016-13 (Election)1
Date of Issue: August 19, 2016

ISSUES

May a judicial candidate include the words “Vote for [CANDIDATE’S NAME] on August 30” in the candidate’s personal Facebook profile?

ANSWER: Yes.

FACTS

A judicial candidate seeking election during the 2016 cycle inquires whether the candidate may include the words “Vote for [CANDIDATE’S NAME] on August 30” or “Please Vote Aug. 30th” in the inquiring candidate’s personal Facebook profile .

 

DISCUSSION

The inquiring candidate does not seek to raise funds or solicit publicly stated support for the candidate’s election, which we previously addressed in Fla. JEAC Op. 2010-28 . The candidate seeks only to encourage voters to vote generally, and to cast their ballot for the candidate specifically. In this sense, a Facebook page is no different from a billboard or a television commercial. The heart of the democratic process is candidates stumping for votes. Nothing in Canon 7 prohibits a judicial candidate from asking the electorate to vote for him or her - whether on Facebook, in person, or through the mass media.

At the dawn of the Internet age, we concluded that “nothing in the Code of Judicial Conduct prohibits the use of an Internet web site for campaign purposes. A web site may be used for campaign purposes, consistent with the use of any other type of campaign literature or media advertising.” Fla. JEAC Op. 1999-26. The explosive growth of the Internet in the intervening years has changed our society, but not the Committee’s view that judicial candidates may use a web site to campaign for elections so long as their communications do not otherwise run afoul of the Canons.

 

REFERENCES

Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 7
Fla. JEAC Ops. 2010-28 and 1999-26.

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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 of 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 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.