March 31, 1995
PERSONAL AND CONFIDENTIAL
(Fees in Settlement
(Minor Son's Injury
In re: Committee on Standards of Conduct Governing Judges
Your Inquiry Dated February 10, 1995
You request the Committee's opinion on the propriety of certain questions in regard to fees and reimbursement you may receive from a settlement from an injury to your son. Your questions and the Committee responses are as follows:
Question 1. Am I entitled to a fee for any services rendered to my son while a judge? My wife is in agreement that I may. None of the services rendered interfered in any way with my duties as a judge, nor did I hold my self out as one (as a judge) in putting the file in order. (See Opinion 90/11 - enclosed.) I might add that it is not my intent to take a fee but I am interested in the opinion.
Although your son's accident is tragic, the majority of the Committee felt that we cannot respond to this question as it is hypothetical. However, it should be noted that Canon 5G states that "A judge may not practice law. Notwithstanding this prohibition, a judge may without compensation, give legal advice to draft or review documents for a member of the judge's family."
Although Opinion 90-11 does allow a judge
to collect a fee for serving in the capacity of a
personal representative and co-trustee arising from his father's death, the representation of a close family member in a personal injury suit is not exempted in Canon 5E(1), only service as "... executor, administrator or other personal representative, trustee, guardian, attorney in fact or other fiduciary...". You may also wish to review Opinion 82-4.
Question 2. I am getting reimbursed for all medical bills and checks which are completely documented by cancelled checks, I assume that is not a problem.
The Committee was unanimous in finding no impropriety in receiving reimbursements for medical bills.
Question 3. I do have a concern over a potential perception problem. The anticipated attorney fee for quantum meruit services rendered that I'll be receiving is $20,000 (again, my wife is in agreement) and I believe that the guardian ad litem is in agreement. Of course, I'll be paying taxes on this amount and opening a custodian account with my wife for our son.
The Committee unanimously finds that you can accept fees for quantum meruit services rendered before becoming a judge and that you cannot accept attorney fees for quantum meruit services rendered while a judge pursuant to Canon 5G.
Question 4. Would your opinion be any different, if the medical reimbursement to my wife and I is approximately $29,000 (completely documented by cancelled checks).
No, you would be entitled to reimbursement for medical expenses regardless of the amount.
Question 5. I believe I am entitled to a fee for quantum meruit value of services rendered before I became a judge and before I took office. (See Opinion 94-07; 91/8.)
The Committee agrees that you would be entitled to quantum meruit fees in compliance with the Rules of Professional Conduct for Lawyers for legal services rendered before taking office pursuant to Opinions 91-8 and 94-7. However, the quantification would be a legal issue beyond the purview of this Committee.
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 judges, but the Judicial Qualifications Commission is not bound by the interpretive opinions by the Committee. Petition of the Committee on Standards of Conduct Governing Judges, 327 So.2d 5 (Fla. 1976).
Very truly yours,
Steve Rushing, Chairman
Committee on Standards of Conduct
CC: All Committee Members
Office of the State Courts Administrator
(Name of judge deleted from this copy)
Participating Members: Judges Doughtie, Green, Kahn, Patterson, Rushing, Silverman, and Tolton