August 14, 1992
Opinion No. 92-33
Judicial Assistant's Political Activity
Re: Committee on Standards of Conduct Governing Judges - Your inquiry dated May 29, 1992
You have asked whether a judicial assistant is prohibited from volunteering to work on the election campaign of a candidate seeking the office of state attorney if the volunteer work is during the judicial assistant's personal time.
Six members of the Committee believe that Canon 7B(1)(b) applies and your judicial assistant is prohibited from the above partisan political activity.
Three members of the Committee disagree and believe the Code does not apply to judicial assistants in this case, or the Code cannot restrict your assistant's right to participate in political activity as long as the activity does not interfere with the performance of her judicial assistant duties.
The majority of the Committee believes that a judicial assistant is an arm of the Court. They interpret Canon 7B(1)(b) "a judge should prohibit employees subject to his discretion or control from doing for him what he is prohibited from doing under this canon" to mean that a judicial assistant cannon participate in any partisan political activity. One committee member state that in some communities it would be perceived that the judicial assistant would not be working for a particular state attorney candidate, if the employer judge did not support that particular candidate. One member perceives a problem because the political activity is on the behalf of a local state attorney directly linked to the judicial system versus political activity in the national presidential campaign. Generally, the majority do not believe judicial assistants should be involved with partisan political activity.
The dissenting members point out that Canon 7B(1)(b) only prohibits political activity "for him". The Code is silent as to political activity for others.
Another member states that the commentary to Canon 7B permits political activity by members of a judge's family, provided the activity is conducted in the name of the individual family member, entirely independent of the judge and without reference to the judge or judicial office. Therefore, a judge's spouse can do what the judge's judicial assistant cannot.
Finally, one member of the Committee believes the Code of Judicial Conduct does not apply to judicial assistants but only to judicial officers. He finds the inquiry not to be contemplated judicial activity and therefore beyond the jurisdiction of the Committee. He suggests that the Florida Supreme Court appoint a committee or commission to draft a code of conduct for all judicial employees and staff. He states a model code for judicial employees and staff has been drafted by the American Judicature Society. The model code permits limited political activity similar to Florida Statutes §104.31 and §110.233.
The 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 issued by the committee. Petition of the Committee on Standards of Conduct for Judges, 327 So2d 5 (Fla.1976).
Harvey L. Goldstein, Chairman
Committee on Standards of Conduct Governing Judges
cc: All Committee Members
Office of State Court Administrator (name of inquiring Judge deleted from this copy)
Participating members: Judges Goldstein, Tolton, Green, Levy, Booth, Doughtie, Farina, Rushing, and Clarke, Esq.