March 29, 1994
(Membership in the Civil Rights
(Committee as well as the
(Executive Committee of the
PERSONAL AND CONFIDENTIAL
RE: Committee on Standards of Conduct Governing Judges
Your inquiry dated January 26, 1994
You have asked our Committee to give an opinion concerning your service as a member of the Anti-Defamation League and specifically as Chairman of the ADL Broward Civil Rights Committee and as a member of the Executive Committee. A majority of our Committee finds that there would be certain ethical problems in your participation with this organization at your level of involvement. As you may know, a prior opinion of this Committee (75-26) found that a judge could accept chairmanship of the ADL's Florida Regional Board. In view of the information you furnished us, it would appear that the ADL's Civil Rights agenda is very extensive. The work includes drafting legislation and authoring amicus briefs in the area of hate crimes and monitoring extremist groups and in law enforcement training. While there is no doubt that these activities are commendable, your leadership position with the organization could cast out (sic) on your impartiality in sitting as a judge. Since hate crimes are now specifically mentioned in the Florida Statutes, it would be ethically difficult for a judge to preside over a hate crime trial when that judge had actively participated in preparing amicus curiae briefs on the issue. By serving as a member of the Executive Committee, your name would be listed on the letterhead thus publicly identifying you with the organization. A number of our Committee members find a definite distinction in simply being a member of a large organization that may have a certain political agenda, and being in a leadership position in the organization. Many churches, for example, have taken positions in the area of abortion and homosexuality and we have heard no suggestions that this would be improper. On the other hand, it may be improper for a judge to head a particular committee within the church if that committee is publicly advocating in an area that could cast doubt as to the judge's impartiality. We have also determined that it would be improper to be a member of some organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Drivers since the sole focus of that organization involves a subject routinely coming before the courts. The opinion of our Committee members is based upon the materials you furnished us and assumes that your role in the ADL would be at the decision-making level. Since the Committee members agree with the principles of anti-defamation, you may wish to request a second opinion if, in fact, your level of involvement is less than outlined above.
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).
Very truly yours,
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 and Edwards, Esq.