FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2017-06
Date of Issue: March 13, 2017

ISSUE

May a circuit’s chief judge accept a donation of copiers to be used exclusively by attorneys in the courtroom?

ANSWER: Yes.

FACTS

The Inquiring Judge, a circuit’s chief judge, asks whether there would be any violation of the judicial canons if a group comprised of professional guardians donated copiers. The donors want to place the copiers in the probate and guardianship courtrooms so that the probate and guardianship attorneys can make immediate copies or certified copies of orders following hearings. There are currently no copiers in the courtroom where such hearings take place. The copiers would be strictly for the benefit of the attorneys. None of the judges or court employees would be using the copiers for court purposes. The court would not be responsible for the maintenance, repair, and supplies for the copiers. Neither the judge nor the judge’s court personnel solicited the donation.

 

DISCUSSION

Generally, a judge is not permitted to accept gifts and is obligated to instruct court personnel not to accept donations. Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 5D(5)(h) and Commentary (Judges may not accept gifts, favors, bequests, or loans from lawyers, their firms, or litigants if they have come or are likely to come before the judge); Fla. JEAC Op. 00-08 (A judge and/or court personnel may not accept gifts, including money and redeemable gift certificates from lawyers, vendors, or other third parties.). However, the facts of this inquiry do not involve a gift to any judge or court employee. The copiers are being donated by a group of professional guardians for the use, benefit, and convenience of those attorneys. No judge or court employee would be using those copiers. Nor would the court be responsible for the maintenance, repair, and supplies of the donated copiers. The subject facts are akin to the everyday, commonplace occurrence of lawyers bringing to the courtroom personally purchased personal computers to perform word processing and to access legal research databases and electronic files; the difference being that the copiers would remain in the courtroom and not be taken home at the end of the day.

Under the facts of this case, the Committee does not perceive having the copiers placed in the courtroom is tantamount to acceptance of a gift, bequest, favor, or loan under Canon 5D or lending the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the donors under Canon 2B. See Fla. JEAC Op. 14-01 (It is not acceptance of a “gift” for a judge to permit the use of chambers for the display of art acquired by the local government for display in an art-in-public-places program.).

The Committee opines that it would be permissible for the copiers to be donated to the court system for the exclusive use and benefit of attorneys in the courtroom. ┬áIn Judicial Ethics Advisory Opinion 13-05, the Committee opined that a judge assigned to a dependency division may permit groups or persons to donate items for children to play with while the children are in court. The inquiring judge could accept donations as long as neither the judge nor the judge’s court personnel solicited the donations. The judge was not involved with the use of the donated items; rather, the items simply were available in the courtroom for the children’s use.

In rendering this opinion, the Committee takes no position on whether the chief judge who wishes to permit such a donation must obtain permission from the County Commissioner’s Office for the use of the electricity and to establish who would be responsible to keep the copiers operational and secure. That issue is beyond the scope of the Committee’s review.

 

REFERENCES

( PLACE REFERENCES TEXT HERE  )Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canons 2B, 5D 5D(5)(h), and Commentary.
Fla. JEAC Ops. 14-01, 13-05, 00-08.

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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.


All Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee opinions, subject matter indices, and a search engine are available on the Sixth Circuit’s website at www.jud6.org under Opinions. Committee opinions and related finding tools are also accessible on the Florida Supreme Court’s website at www.floridasupremecourt.org as a secondary posting under Court Opinions.


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