FLORIDA SUPREME COURT
COMMITTEE ON STANDARDS OF CONDUCT GOVERNING JUDGES

OPINION 97-19

SUBJECT: May a judge accept an appointment on the
board of directors of a legislative committee
for a lobbying organization


The inquiring judge is a "collector, maker and writer" in the field of custom made cutlery. He has recently been asked to serve on the board of director of the Cutlery collectors Legislative Committee. The Committee is involved in lobbying efforts intended to influence legislation affecting the manufacture, sale, consumption, or use of cutlery items. The inquiring judge does not know of any Committee activity that has taken place in the state of Florida. The judge asks whether he may accept the appointment and represents that he would not be "personally involved with any lobbying activities, would not take part in any fund raising activities, nor allow my name to be used in fund raising activities." To the knowledge of the inquiring judge, the Committee has never been engaged in any lobbying activities in the State of Florida.

A majority of the Committee on Standards finds that service on this board is permissible under Canon 5C(3). Canon 5C(3) generally allows a judge to 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 certain limitations. The Committee majority finds no express provision of the Code that would prohibit the judge's service on this board simply because it is the board of a lobbying organization. The majority would limit its response to the precise facts as stated in the inquiry, and particularly relies upon the inquiring judge's representation that the committee has never engaged in lobbying in Florida, and that if it did so, he would resign.

The chairman, and one other member, would answer the inquiry in the negative. This minority finds that an organization whose function is to conduct lobbying, does not fall under those memberships in positions allowable by Canon 5C(3). In the view of these members, even though the inquiring judge vows not to directly participate in lobbying activities, the inescapable fact is that the organization in which he proposes to serve is a "legislative committee", which in our society is a very common euphemism for lobbyist.

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 7th day of July, 1997.

Charles J. Kahn, Jr.
Chairman, Committee on Standards of Conduct Governing Judges


Participation Members: Judges Green, C. Kahn, L. Kahn, Patterson, Rushing, Silverman, Tolton and Attorney Novicki

cc: All Committee Members
Office of the State Courts Administrator
Justice Charles T. Wells (name of judge deleted from this copy)