FLORIDA SUPREME COURT
COMMITTEE ON STANDARDS OF CONDUCT GOVERNING JUDGES

OPINION 97-26


Date Issued: August 1, 1997

 

SUBJECT
Teaching a leadership or church law course at an accredited religious university

ISSUE
Is it ethical for a judge to teach a leadership or church law course at an accredited religious university?

Answer: Yes, so long (sic) the teaching activities do not cast reasonable doubt on the judge's capacity to act impartially, demean the judicial office. or interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties; and any compensation received therefrom is reported in accordance with Canon 6 of the Code of Judicial Conduct.

FACTS
The inquiring judge asks whether the Code of Judicial Conduct prevents her from "teaching a leadership or church law course at [her] church's newly accredited university."

The leadership course deals with developing future leaders who hold leadership positions in the church, as well as those interested in becoming secular leaders.

The church law course dealing with the interaction between the pastor/church and the state and federal governments. The course includes discussion of the IRS Code, and is offered to ministers as a part of the ministerial doctoral program.

During her tenure on the bench, the judge has not handled any cases involving any of the subject matters to be taught. She further advises the Committee that she will not answer specific legal questions, and will direct the college administrators to refrain from advertising her judicial title/position.

DISCUSSION
The inquiring judge questions whether she is ethically precluded from teaching the church law and a leadership course at her church's accredited university. The Code of Judicial Conduct specifically addresses the judge's considered extrajudicial activities.

In general, Canon 4 of the Code of Judicial Conduct authorizes judges to engage in activities to improve the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice. Specifically, Canon 4(b) of the Code provides, "A judge may speak, write, lecture, teach and participate in other quasi-judicial activities concerning the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice, subject to the requirements of this Code." While Canon 4 permits a judge to engage in various quasi-judicial activities involving the law, the Code requires that the activities not cast reasonable doubt on the judge's capacity to act impartially, demean the judicial office, or interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties. See, Canon 4A.

The Committee on Standards of Conduct governing Judges has, on many occasions, considered questions from judges arising from their desire to teach law related courses to lawyers and non lawyers alike. See, Opinion 82-6 (Lecturing a group of non-lawyers in landlord-tenant law is permitted, so long as the teaching activity will not interfere with the judge's judicial duties); Opinion 77-14 (A judge my [sic] teach a graduate seminar in juvenile justice and family law); Opinion 76-21 (Teaching criminal justice at a community college falls within the permissible activities outlined win Canon 4.); Opinion 75-28 (A Florida Supreme Court Justice may teach at one of the state's law schools); Opinion 73-17 ( A judge may ethically undertake the additional responsibility of teaching and lecturing in the College of Law at the University of Florida.)

The inquiring judge's proposed church law course comes within the purview of permissible law related activities described in Canon 4(b). So long as her teaching assignment does not run afoul of the limitations set forth in Canon 4(a), the judge may ethically teach the church law course.

Canon 5 addresses the judge's proposed leadership course. That Canon directs judges to regulate their extrajudicial activities in a way as to minimize the risk of conflict with their judicial duties.

Canon 5B of the Code of Judicial Conduct provides that, "A judge may speak, write, lecture, teach and participate in other extrajudicial activities concerning non-legal subject, subject to the requirement of this Code." This provision is subject to the limitations set forth in Canon 5(A). Those limitations permit a judge to engage in extra-judicial activities so long as the activities do not cast reasonable doubt on the judge's capacity to act impartially, demean the judicial office, or interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties.

The inquiring judge's leadership course is a permissible activity under the terms of in (sic) Canon 5(B). So long as the judge's teaching assignment is not contrary to the limitations of Canon 5(A), she may ethically teach the course.

The Committee reminds the judge of the requirements of Canon 6(A) and (B). Those provisions address the judge's compensation and reimbursement of expenses for permissible quasi-judicial and extrajudicial activities. They also delineate the public financial reporting requirements.

REFERENCES
Florida Code of Judicial Conduct, Canons 4(A), 4(B), 5(A), 5(B), 6(A), AND 6(B) (1997).

Florida Supreme Court Committee on the Standards of Conduct Governing Judges, Opinions 82-6 (April 14, 1982); 77-14 (June 20, 1977); 76-21 (November 18, 1976); 75-28 (October 17, 1975); and 73-17 (November 13, 1973).

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 Governing Judges, 327 So. 2d 5 (Fla. 1976). For further information contact The Honorable Scott Silverman, Chairman, Committee on Standards of Conduct Governing Judges, The Richard E. Gerstein Justice Building, 1351 NW 12th Street, #513, Miami, Florida 33125


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

Copies furnished to:
All Committee Members
All members of the J.Q.C.
Justice Charles T. Wells
Office of the State Courts Administrator (name of judge deleted from this copy)