FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2018-29
Date of Issue: October 30, 2018

ISSUE

May a judge accept a distinguished alumni award from the law school that the judge graduated where the ceremony is a fundraiser for scholarships for law students?

ANSWER: Yes, as long as the judge makes reasonable and continuous efforts to ensure that the judge’s participation falls within the parameters of the relevant canons.

FACTS

The inquiring judge will be receiving a distinguished alumni award from the law school from which the judge graduated. The ceremony is a fundraising gala for law school scholarships. The law school will be providing the judge with a table at the ceremony for the judge to invite friends to observe him/her receiving the award.

 

DISCUSSION

Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 4D provides: “a judge is encouraged to serve as a member, officer, director, trustee or non-legal advisor of an organization or governmental entity devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system, the judicial branch or the administration of justice, subject to the following limitations and the other requirements of this code.”

Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 4D(2)(b) goes on to provide: “a judge as an officer, director, trustee or non-legal advisor or as a member or otherwise: (b) may appear or speak at, receive an award or other recognition at, be featured on the program of, and permit the judge’s title to be used in conjunction with an event of such an organization or entity, but if the event serves a fundraising purpose, the judge may participate only if the event concerns the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice and the funds raised will be used for a law-related purpose.” (emphasis added).

In Fla. JEAC Op. 17-22, this committee opined that a judge may accept an award from a local voluntary bar association at an annual scholarship gala that serves as a fundraiser for law students. The judge’s inquiry in this matter is very closely aligned with the inquiry that formed the basis of Fla. JEAC Op. 17-22.

As stated in that opinion, prior to agreeing to participate in such an event, it is the responsibility of the inquiring judge to make sure that the organization meets the criteria set forth in Canon 4D(2)(b). Fla. JEAC Op. 17-22 (citing Fla. JEAC Op. 08-17.)  Further “the onus is on the judge who agrees to participate in a fundraiser pursuant to Canon 4D(2)(b) to determine that none of the prohibitions in Canon 4A(1)-(6) exists.” Id. The inquiring judge “also has a continuing obligation to remain vigilant that none of the prohibitions in Canon 4A(1)-(6) are violated.” Id.

The fundraiser here appears to be related to the law school and therefore “concerns the law,” and supports legal education scholarships, which constitutes a “law- related purpose.”  It therefore appears to fall within the category of permissible events under Canon 4D(2)(b).

 

REFERENCES

Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canons 4A(1)-(6), 4D, and 4D(2)(b)
Fla. JEAC Ops. 17-22 and 08-17

_____________


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 James A. Edwards, Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Chair, Fifth District Court of Appeal, 300 South Beach Street, Daytona Beach, FL 32114.

Participating Members:
Judge Michael Andrews, Judge Roberto Arias, Judge Nina Ashenafi-Richardson, Judge W. Joel Boles, Judge Miguel de la O, Judge James A. Edwards, Judge David Green, Mark Herron, Esquire, Judge Barbara Lagoa, Judge Matthew C. Lucas, Judge Michael Raiden, and Charles Reynolds, Esquire.


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