FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2019-29
Date of Issue: October 8, 2019

ISSUE

May a judge accept an "honorary" membership in the National Black Prosecutors' Association?

ANSWER: No.

FACTS

The inquiring judge has recently been invited to become an "honorary" member of a new, local chapter of the National Black Prosecutors' Association (NBPA) that is presently being organized. The inquiring judge has directed our attention to NBPA's website (www.blackprosecutors.org) for further information about this organization. Pertinent to our inquiry, NBPA's website states1 the following:

The National Black Prosecutors Association (NBPA) is the only professional membership organization dedicated to the advancement of Blacks as prosecutors. Founded in 1983, the Association's membership is comprised of both chief and line prosecutors nationwide. In addition to prosecutors, the association’s membership includes law students, former prosecutors, and law enforcement personnel.

The NBPA is emerging as the international association of Black law enforcement professionals with a reputation for providing education and leadership in the legal profession through its intensive training sessions and multi-disciplined networking.

An honorary member, the website further informs us, is "[a] person, an organization, or a corporation whose principles and objectives are consistent with those of [NBPA], and who supports the principles and objectives of [NBPA]." An honorary member may serve on any NBPA committee but may not vote or hold office within NBPA.

 

DISCUSSION

Fla. Code of Jud. Conduct, Canon 5A(1) states: "A judge shall conduct all of the judge's extra-judicial activities so that they do not . . . cast reasonable doubt on the judge's capacity to act impartially as a judge." On more than one occasion, this Committee has deemed that a judicial officer's membership in a voluntary association or organization of law enforcement officials would run afoul of Canon 5A's strictures because such membership tends to "cast reasonable doubt" about the judge's impartiality. See, e.g., Fla. JEAC Op. 06-29 (appointed judge could not join the Florida Highway Patrol Auxiliary); Fla. JEAC Op. 00-04 (hearing officer could not attend local police department's six-week Citizens Police Academy); Fla. JEAC Op. 92-05 (judge could not join a county association of police chiefs where the JEAC members "unanimously agreed such membership will reflect adversely upon your impartiality"). In Fla. JEAC Op. 94-15, we opined that it would be improper for a judge to join the board of directors of an entity called the "Police Officers Assistant Trust," even though two of the JEAC's members at the time were concerned that that inquiring judge had not furnished sufficient information about what the inquiring judge's role would be within that organization. "A majority of our members, however, feel that the title of the organization would identify it to be a prosecution oriented group and for a judge to be a member would be in conflict with the neutrality required of judges." Id.

The same conclusion maintains here. Although NBPA may offer important and valuable benefits to its members and the community, its stated mission-indeed, its very title-unquestionably identifies this organization as "a prosecution oriented group." Accordingly, the inquiring judge would be prohibited from joining it.

 

REFERENCES

Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 5A(1)
Fla. JEAC Ops. 06-29, 00-04, 94-15, 92-05

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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 W. Joel Boles, Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Chair, First Circuit M.C. Blanchard Judicial Building, 190 Governmental Center, 6th Floor, Pensacola, FL 32502 or JEAC@flcourts.org.

Participating Members:
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 Jeffrey T. Kuntz, 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

 

1. Last visited October 3, 2019.