March 15, 1994
(Judge as private citizen
(signing petition banning gill
PERSONAL AND CONFIDENTIAL
RE: Committee on Standards of Conduct Governing Judges
Your inquiry dated February 8, 1994
You have requested an opinion from our Committee questioning whether a judge as a private citizen can sign a petition calling for a proposed constitutional amendment banning gill netting in state waters. A majority of our Committee finds that there may be ethical problems in signing this petition. Members of the Committee expressed concern in a number of areas. To begin with, we find that judges in general cannot proceed as private citizens in political issues. Certainly judges are permitted to vote but they are prohibited from publicly endorsing candidates. By signing a petition, your vote would become public and could be mis-used without your consent. In the past, our Committee has found no problem with judges taking public positions on issues relating to improving the legal system or the administration of justice. As you have pointed out, the petition simply calls for placing the issue on the ballot, however, from a practical standpoint, everyone knows that only the proponents of the ban favor placing the issue on the ballot. Some of our members find that since there is no per se ethical prohibition against merely signing a petition, that if you elect to sign the petition, it would still be advisable to disclose this fact if you happen to sit on a case regarding gill netting.
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 So.2d 5 (Fla.1976).
Yours very truly,
Nath C. Doughtie, Chairman
Committee on Standards of Conduct Governing Judges
cc: All Committee Members
Office of the Courts Administrator (name of judge deleted from this copy)
Participating members: Judges Doughtie, Farina , Goldstein, Green, Kahn, Patterson , Rushing, Taylor, Tolton.