March 12, 1996

Opinion 96-2

Judge as member of new attorney's
support organization
Canon 4D and Canon 5C

Re: Committee on Standards of Conduct Governing Judges
Your inquiry dated January 17, 1996

You ask about the propriety of becoming involved in the formation of an organization dedicated to providing confidential assistance to attorneys with problems unrelated to Bar discipline matters. Ailments such as depression and substance abuse could be dealt with outside of the Bar's penumbra of influence. You also want to know if you can become involved in this group in your official capacity, using judicial letterhead, etc.

It is unclear exactly what you intend to actually do with this organization. Under Canon 4(D) , you may become involved with the proposed group, as a member or otherwise, as it is clearly an organization devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice. You should read the commentary to this Canon regarding fundraising and membership solicitation.

Assuming this organization will be non-profit, Canon 5C(3) applies. You may serve as an officer, director, trustee, or non-legal advisor of this civic organization. It is unlikely the organization will be engaged in proceedings before you or will frequently be engaged in adversary proceedings in your court or under your appellate jurisdiction. You should also read the commentary to this Canon.

You ask about the use of your judicial letterhead with this organization. The Code's prohibitions on the use of the prestige of the judicial office forbid you from using your letterhead in connection with the organization.

Seven of the nine responding committee members felt that you could become involved with this organization. All agreed that you should not use your judicial letterhead. Two dissenting members felt that you might be placed in awkward situations were an attorney using the services of this organization were to appear before you, due to the nature of the organization. In one member's words. "...I am inclined to recommend that [the judge] not place himself in a position where he would receive confidential information concerning a lawyer's fitness to practice law."

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).

Oliver L. Green, Jr.
Chairman, Committee on Standards of Conduct Governing Judges

cc: All Committee Members
Office of the State Courts Administrator
(name of judge deleted from this copy)

Participating Members: Judges Cardonne, Doughtie, Green, L. Kahn, Patterson, Rushing, Silverman, Tolton and Attorney Novicki