FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2017-14 (Election)1
Date of Issue: August 28, 2017

ISSUE ONE

May a judicial candidate personally solicit the support and/or endorsement of well-recognized public officials in the community (i.e., Sheriff, Police Chief, Property Appraiser, Tax Collector, County Commissioner, School Board Members, etc.)?

ANSWER: Yes, if the public official is not also campaigning for reelection. Furthermore, the solicitation, acceptance, and publication of such endorsements must comply with the requirements of the Canons to maintain the dignity appropriate to judicial office and in a manner so as not to call into question the impartiality, integrity, and independence of the judiciary.

ISSUE TWO

May a judicial candidate personally solicit the support and/or endorsement of citizens in the community?

ANSWER: Yes, provided the solicitation, acceptance, and publication of such endorsements must comply with the requirements of the Canons to maintain the dignity appropriate to judicial office and in a manner so as not to call into question the impartiality, integrity, and independence of the judiciary.

FACTS

The inquiring judge recognizes that Canon 7C(1), in pertinent part, provides that

A candidate, including an incumbent judge, for a judicial office that is filled by public election between competing candidates 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 of support for his or her candidacy.

The inquiring judge asks whether a judicial candidate may personally solicit individuals who are not attorneys for publicly stated support.

  
DISCUSSION

Canon 7A provides that a candidate for judicial office:

shall maintain the dignity appropriate to judicial office and act in a manner consistent with the impartiality, integrity, and independence of the judiciary, and shall encourage members of the candidate’s family to adhere to the same standards of political conduct in support of the candidate as apply to the candidate.

Canon 7C(1) specifically prohibits a judicial candidate from personally soliciting attorneys for publicly stated support; rather obtaining public statements of support from attorneys must be done by the committee of responsible persons. This Committee has determined that a judicial candidate may not directly or indirectly solicit or accept the endorsement of a political party. Fla. JEAC Op. 04-09. In addition, a judicial candidate may not advertise the endorsement of a political party, even though the candidate took no action to obtain the endorsement. Fla. JEAC Op. 06-21.

This Committee has also opined that a judge who has opposition for re-election in a multi-county circuit may accept public endorsement of the circuit’s state attorney, sheriffs, and police chiefs. The judge may also indicate the title or designation of those individuals in campaign advertising. Fla. JEAC Op. 14-11. Further, this Committee has consistently opined, “A judicial candidate may accept an endorsement from a non-judicial elected official who is not campaigning for election, but only if the partisan aspects of the official’s position are not mentioned.” Fla. JEAC Op. 10-14 (Election).

In Florida Judicial Ethics Committee Opinion 16-09, this Committee summarized the conditions that must be met for a judicial candidate to accept an endorsement from a non-judicial elected official:

  1. The endorsement is in fact from an individual and not the political party the person represents;
  2. The official is not also campaigning for re-election;
  3. The partisan aspects of the official’s position are not mentioned; and
  4. The content of the advertisement referencing such endorsement is not otherwise violative of the Code of Judicial Conduct.”

See Fla. JEAC Ops. 06-21; 10-1414-11. This Committee, in Florida Judicial Ethics Committee Opinion 10-14, additionally cautioned that a candidate could not accept an endorsement from a non-judicial candidate running for office in the same election cycle. That opinion is based upon the Florida Supreme Court’s construction of Canon 7A(2)(b) as prohibiting a judicial candidate from appearing to run as part of a “slate.” In re Kay, 508 So. 2d 329 (Fla. 1987).

As noted in Florida Judicial Ethics Committee Opinion 14-11, this Committee cautioned that “judicial candidates must exercise discretion in the choice and use of endorsements to ensure the candidate does not convey the impression he or she will not be independent or impartial in carrying out the duties of office if elected.” The Committee further noted that ‘[t]he Supreme Court of Florida has reprimanded judicial candidates who have manifested the appearance of partiality toward the prosecution or law enforcement in campaign materials, advertisements, and comments.” See, e.g., In re McMillan, 797 So. 2d 560 (Fla. 2001); and In re Kinsey, 842 So. 2d 77, 88 (Fla. 2003).

Canon 7C(1) does not specifically prohibit a judicial candidate from personally soliciting the support and / or endorsement from well-recognized public officials in the community such as the sheriff, a police chief, the Property Appraiser, the Tax Collector, a county commissioner, school board member, or from other citizens in the community. However, the solicitation, acceptance, and publication of such endorsements must comply with the requirements of the Canons to maintain the dignity appropriate to judicial office and in a manner so as not to call into question the impartiality, integrity, and independence of the judiciary.

 

REFERENCES

Cases: In re Kay, 508 So. 2d 329 (Fla. 1987); In re McMillan, 797 So. 2d 560 (Fla. 2001); In re Kinsey, 842 So. 2d 77, 88 (Fla. 2003).
Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canons 7A and 7C(1).
Fla. JEAC Ops. 04-09; 06-21; 10-14; 14-11; 16-09.

_____________


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 Miguel de la O, Chair, Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, Eleventh Circuit, Richard E. Gerstein Justice Building, 1351 N.W. 12th Street, Room 424, Miami, FL 33125.

Participating Members:
Judge Michael F. Andrews, Judge Roberto Arias, Judge Nina Ashenafi-Richardson, Judge W. Joel Boles, 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, and 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

 

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.