September 23, 1981
This is in response to your inquiry of August 5th, 1981, in which you request the opinion of the Committee on Standards of Conduct Governing Judges as to the propriety of a judge using his personal stationery, which identifies his as a judge, in making complaints to various businesses. You furnished the examples of a complaint to an automobile dealer regarding the recent purchase of an automobile, and a complaint to a utility company.
Of the nine Committee members responding, eight were of the opinion that it was improper to use stationery that identifies the sender as a judge, in making complaints to business entities. Canon 5C(1) provides a judge should "refrain from financial and business dealings that ...exploit his judicial position..." Automobile dealers and utility companies, as well as other business entities, are often parties to litigation. Whether the judge intends to exploit his judicial position or not, the recipient of the letter will regard it as an attempt to browbeat him, especially if it is likely he may some day have to appear before the judge.
It is true that a business entity might be well aware the person making a complaint is a local judge and might feel compelled to take that complaint more seriously and make greater effort to see he is satisfied. That cannot be helped, but, a complaint on stationery which identifies the sender as a judge is tantamount to making a complaint while wearing judicial robes. Whether a judge receives favorable treatment in not important. The important thing is that it gives the appearance of impropriety.
One of our members felt it was not possible to guage (sic) the propriety of a particular letter absent the contents of the letter. This member abstained from voting on the inquiry.
James T. Carlisle, Chairman
Committee on Standards of Conduct Governing Judges
cc: All Committee Members
Sid White, Clerk of the Supreme Court
Mr. William C. Clark, Chairman, Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission
Mrs. Linda H. Yates, Managing Editor, Florida Bar Journal
Hon Howard T. Markey, Chairman, Ethics Advisory Panel Judicial Conference of the U.S.
All references to the inquiring judge deleted
Participating members: Judges Booth, Carlisle, Hewitt, Letts, Nesbitt, O'Connell, Richardson, Turner and Samuel Powers, Attorney.