May 29, 1996

Opinion 96-9

Service as Co-Chairman of Organization
directed at Repeat Juvenile Offenders
Canon 4 and Canon 7

Re: Committee on Standards of Conduct Governing Judges
Your inquiry dated April 4, 1996

You have been asked to serve as a co-chairman in an organization called the Serious Habitual Offender Comprehensive Action Program or SHOCAP. This organization is directed at repeat juvenile offenders. The emphasis of SHOCAP is on information sharing and case management within the Juvenile Justice System with the goal of reducing recidivism.

After being assigned to the Juvenile Division, you were asked to represent the judiciary regarding an "Interagency Agreement to Agree" to take part in SHOCAP. You have now ben asked to become co-chairman of SHOCAP. You are concerned about the appearance of impropriety as, eventually, some of the SHOCAP juveniles will come before you. Specifically, you are concerned about the appearance of impropriety if you become exceptionally active in putting the program together. You inquire (1) whether your participation in the program is permissible and (2) whether you may assume a leadership position as co-chairman.

Canon 4 provides that a judge may engage in activities to improve the law, the legal system and the administration of justice. Specifically, Canon 4D provides "[a] judge may serve as a member, officer, director, trustee or non-legal advisor of an organization or governmental agency devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system or the administration of justice..."

In minutes dated May 21, 1986 the Florida Supreme Court rejected Opinion 86-8 wherein the committee held that a county judge's service on the Board of a DUI school was improper. In rejecting this Opinion, the Supreme Court stated such service was contemplated by Canon 4. Since then, we have held that a judge may serve on the board of local DUI countermeasure school, even though that judge sentences DUI offenders to participate in a substance abuse course as mandated by statute and the local DUI school is the only such course available. See Opinion 93-23. Additionally, Opinions 88-24 and 88-30 both hold that a judge may serve as a member of Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Planning Council.

All nine responding Committee members find your proposed service as chairman of SHOCAP is analogous to the above situations. While it is not specifically set out what the eventual SHOCAP program will be, it appears that it will involve information sharing between organizations such as the police, the schools, the state attorney, the public defender's office, HRS and the judiciary concerning juvenile offenders. Assuming the information shared between agencies is not of a confidential nature and the information is not given to the judiciary ex parte, the nine responding members unanimously agree that both your participation in the program and service as co-chairman are permissible.

However, given your concerns, the nine responding members would further direct you to the following language of Opinion 93-23:

However, five Committee members state that judicial ethics require personal decisions by a judge. You may decide that your personal service on the board of directors may create an appearance of impropriety or create a conflict with your particular judicial position. If you perceive a potential for conflict that makes you feel uncomfortable, you should not do it.

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,

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 Dell, Doughtie, Green, L. Kahn, Patterson, Rushing, Silverman, Tolton and Attorney Novicki