July 5, 1984

Opinion No. 84/15

Dear

Your inquiry to the committee states:

The Circuit Judge handling Juvenile cases in Brevard County has recently suggested that my wife consider making application for the soon-to-occur vacancy as Director of the Guardian Ad Litem program in the county. The Director's position primarily involves recruiting, training, assignment and supervision of volunteers for appointment as guardians ad litem in child abuse, or neglect judicial proceedings (F.S. 415.508).

You further state that, as circuit judge, you have handled juvenile cases in the past but do not do so now and do not expect to do so in the future. Consequently, you do not foresee that your wife's employment would place her in a position of interest with reference to any matter coming before you. Your inquiry is whether there would be any impropriety or appearance thereof in your wife submitting an application for the position described.

The committee unanimously responds that your wife may submit an application for, and hold, the position you describe without there being a violation of the Code of Judicial Ethics.

Review of the committee's prior opinions shows rulings that wives and other family members may accept employment in positions which can bring the relative into contact with the judge in an official way but that recusal is required if the spouse or relative is involved in any matter brought before the judge. For example, in Opinion No. 84/7, we held that the wife of a circuit judge could accept a position in the State Treasurer and Insurance Commissioner's office as a field representative, a position which is part of the Commissioner's regulatory function and could conceivably involve the wife in a case arising before the judge. The fact that the judge would have to recuse himself in a case or two is not a ground for denying the wife the opportunity for employment. In Opinion No. 78/21, we held that the wife of a county judge could be employed by the Hillsborough County Board of Criminal Justice, stating:

The participating members of the committee are of the unanimous view that your wife may, so far as the Code of Judicial Conduct is concerned, obtain employment any place she so desires. Of course if your wife's employment should place her in a position of interest with reference to any matter coming before you, then you should recuse yourself.

The problem of recusal could, of course, become severe and interfere with your ability to perform your duties if you were assigned to the Juvenile Division and daily required to recuse yourself due to your wife's position with the Guardian Ad Litem Program. See, for example, Opinions No. 77/12 (brother of circuit judge is Assistant State Attorney) and Opinion No. 77/4 (brother of circuit judge assigned to Juvenile Division is the Public Defender in the Juvenile Division).

One committee member wrote expressing the view that, since you will essentially be excluded from working in the Juvenile Division if your wife obtains the position in question, you should consider taking this matter up with the chief judge of your circuit.

Sincerely,

Anne C. Booth, Chairman
Committee on Standards of Conduct Governing Judges

cc: All Committee Members

All reference to the inquiring judge is deleted from the copies sent to the following individuals.

Mr. Sid White, Clerk of the Supreme Court of Florida
Linda Yates, Managing Editor, The Florida Bar Journal
Mark Hulsey, Esq., Chairman, Judicial Qualifications Commission.
Hon. Howard T. Markey, Chairman, Ethics Advisory Panel of the Judicial Conference of the United States .
Jeffrey M. Shaman, Esquire, Director, Center for Judicial Conduct Organizations
Ms. Jean Underhill, Librarian, Broward County Law Library
Mr. Robert Wallace, Librarian, Dade County Law Library
Mr. Brian Polley, Librarian, Supreme Court of Florida

Participating members: Judges Booth, Carlisle, Dell, Green, Grube, Hewitt, Letts and Tedder, and Attorney Samuel J. Powers, Jr.