April 22, 1996

Opinion 96-4

Service on Executive Board of
local Character Counts Coalition
Canon 5

Re: Committee on Standards of Conduct Governing Judges
Your inquiry dated February 13, 1996

You have been asked to be a member of the executive board of an organization called Martin County Character Counts (MHCC). The executive board will oversee and run MHCC. The organization is in its infancy and is currently being run through the Martin County United Way, although it is not part of the United Way. You state that it is likely the organization will become a non-profit organization. The organization is a member of the national Character Counts Coalition.

The goals of MHCC are educational. MHCC seeks to build character traits of community members. These character traits are trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship. The organization seeks to operate through schools, faith communities, government, non-profit service organizations, family units, civic and professional organizations, business and sports and recreational clubs and organizations. You state that it is possible that the organization may expand to other programs with similar goals.

Your specific questions are as follows:

1. May I serve on the governing board of the MHCC?

2. If not, may I participate in the organization as any other citizen might participate?

3. At meeting of MHCC, when there are discussions regarding which programs the organization should adopt and utilize, may I express my views, and vote on the subject.

4. If I am able to serve on the executive board, and if the names and offices, if any, of all other board members appear on the organization's letterhead, may my name and designation as judge appear if that letterhead is used by the organization for mailing out fund solicitations or seeking members.

As to your first question, the nine responding members unanimously agree that your service on the executive board would not violate the Canons. While you state that "[t]o the extent that MHCC meets its goals, it should have a positive impact on the court system and improve the administration of justice," the Committee finds the organization is more properly considered a civic organization governed under Canon 5C(3). That Canon provides "[a] judge may serve as an officer, director, trustee or non-legal advisor of an educational, religious, charitable, fraternal, sororal or civic organization not conducted for profit, subject to the following limitations and other requirements of this Code." The Canon further provides that a judge shall not serve as an officer, director, etc. If the organization "(i) will be engaged in proceedings that would ordinarily come before the judge, or (ii) will be engaged frequently in adversary proceedings in the court of which the judge is a member..."

In answering this question, it is assumed that the organization is operating as non-profit. It does not appear that the organization is likely to engage in proceedings that would ordinarily come before the judge or will be frequently engaged in adversary proceedings before the court. Addressing your second question, the nine responding members find that as it is permissible for you to serve on the executive board, you would also be allowed to participate in the organization as any other citizen. Of course, this participation would be subject to the Code. As to your third question, as a member of the executive committee, all responding members agree that you are allowed to express your views and vote on matters.

Finally, the commentary to Canon 5 states: "[u]se of an organization letterhead for fundraising or membership solicitation does not violate Section 5C(3)(b) provided that the letterhead lists only the judge's name and office or other position in the organization and, if comparable designations are listed for other persons, the judge's judicial designation." Therefore, the nine responding members answer your fourth question in the affirmative.

Thus, assuming the organization prepares its letterhead in compliance with the above-quoted commentary, the eight responding members agree that there should be no problem with your name appearing on the letterhead, even when it is used for fundraising.

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, C. Kahn, L. Kahn, Patterson, Rushing, Tolton and Attorney Novicki