SUBJECT: Judge requested to endorse a law
related curriculum project developed
by local newspaper
The inquiring judge has been instrumental in developing a legal education program used in sixteen county high schools. Recently the St. Petersburg Times Newspaper and Education Division became aware of this program and now wishes to participate by providing newspapers and law related curriculum materials to local students. The Times has now asked the inquiring judge if he "would endorse the Times NIE program for our law-related curriculum project?" Although not completely clear from the inquiry, it appears that the Times would use the judge's endorsement in fund-raising efforts, including a mailing to local attorneys to request individual monetary support. The judge asks whether he may provide the endorsement.
Under Canon 2B a judge shall not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of others. Although the St. Petersburg Times is undoubtedly concerned with advancing public awareness about the law and the legal system by providing materials to students, it is certainly first and foremost a commercial endeavor. The requested endorsement would be and endorsement not only of the program and the curriculum, but also of the Times. This is prohibited. See Opinion 95-44 (a judge could not write a "positive letter" about his education at a local high school where the letter would then be used to promote business concerns in the neighborhood of the high school.)
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).
Dated the 1st day of July, 1997.
Charles J. Kahn, Jr.
Chairman, Committee on Standards of Conduct Governing Judges
Participation Members: Judges Cardonne, Dell, Green, C. Kahn, L. Kahn, Patterson, Tolton and Attorney Novicki
cc: All Committee Members
Justice Charles T. Wells
Office of the State Courts Administrator
(name of judge deleted from this copy)