July 19, 1996
Candidate attending testimonial and
Tampa Bay Friends for Life spring banquet
Re: Committee on Standards of Conduct Governing Judges
Your inquiry dated May 6, 1996
You have inquiries about two upcoming functions. Your first concerns a testimonial to Congressman Sam Gibbons. You point out that as Congressman Gibbons is retiring, he will not be campaigning. However you also note that the invitation states that it is a paid political advertisement. Additionally, there is a minimum charge of $100.00 per person to attend the testimonial. The second inquiry concerns the Third Annual Spring Banquet held by the Tampa Bay Friends for Life. The invitation states that it is a non-partisan, pro-family event.
As recently amended, Canon, 7A(1)(d) provides that, except as provided in sections 7B(2), 7C(2) and 7C(3), a candidate for judicial office shall not attend political party functions. In re: Code of Judicial Conduct, 21 Fla. L. Weekly S241 (Fla. May 30, 1996) Canon 7A(1)(e) states, with the same exception, that a judicial candidates shall not "pay an assessment to, or make a contribution to a political organization or candidate or purchase tickets for political party dinners or other functions." The pertinent exception to these rules is Canon 7C(3), also recently amended, reads:
A judicial candidate involved in an election or re-election, or a merit retention candidate who has certified that he or she has active opposition, may attend a political party function to speak in behalf of his or her candidacy of on a mater that relates to the law, the improvement of the legal system, or the administration of justice. The function must not be a fundraiser, and the invitation to speak must also include the other candidates, if any for that office.
Id. at S241
As to your first inquiry, the testimonial for Congressman Gibbons is clearly a political fundraiser and the Committee agrees that you are prohibited from attending under the above Canons.
The recent amendments to Canon 7 impact your second inquiry. You are concerned that the Tampa Bay Friends for Life's Third Annual Spring Banquet could be viewed as political or controversial. The event does not appear to be a partisan political party function. According to the invitation, there will be speakers from both parties. Therefore, as it is not a political party function, the Committee agrees that you may attend.
As to whether the event is controversial, the Committee's concern is that your appearance at a pro life function could be viewed as a commitment with respect to abortion issues in violation of Canon 7A(3)(d)(ii). You must take care to avoid such an appearance. Your inquiry does not state what the cost of a ticket to the Spring Banquet would be. Three members of the Committee are concerned that if the price of the ticket exceeds the price of the food, the function is really a fundraiser. Thus, in effect you would be contributing money to the organization, which could give the appearance you are adopting the group's agenda. In summation, the Committee believes you can attend, but should be careful not to give the appearance of adopting the Friends for Life's agenda.
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 Cardonne, Dell, Doughtie, Green, C. Kahn, L. Kahn, Patterson, Rushing, Silverman, Tolton and Attorney Novicki