Opinion Number: 98-9
Date of Issue: June 24, 1998
ETHICAL PROPRIETY OF A JUDGE PARTICIPAING IN THE ESTABLISHMENT OF A COUNTY COMMUNITY JUSTICE COALITION; CHIEF JUDGE SIGNING A PROPOSED AGREEMENT ON BEHALF OF ALL OF JUDGES WITHIN THE CIRCUIT ESTABLISHING A COUNTY COMMUNITY JUSTICE COALITION
May a judge ethically participate in the establishment of a County Community Justice Coalition? ANSWER: Yes. So long as the information shared between the agencies is not of a confidential nature and it is not given to the judiciary ex parte, a judge is ethically permitted to participate in the establishment of a County Community Justice Coalition. Judges are generally permitted to engage in activities to improve the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice.
May the chief judge of a circuit sign a proposed agreement that establishes a County Community Justice Coalition on behalf of all the judges within the circuit, and which establishes their participation in the Coalition? ANSWER: This committee declines to respond to this inquiry noting that this is an administrative decision on the part of the chief judge.
The inquiring judge is contemplating signing a proposed agreement establishing a County Community Justice Coalition on behalf of all the judges within the circuit. The agreement also establishes the judge's involvement with the Coalition.
The inquiring judge questions whether the signing of such an agreement runs afoul of the Code of Judicial Conduct.
Canon 4 of the Code of Judicial Conduct is entitled, "A Judge May Engage in Activities to Improve the Law, the Legal System, and the Administration of Justice." Specifically, Canon 4A provides that:
A judge shall conduct all of the judge's quasi-judicial activities so that they do not:
(1) cast reasonable doubt on the judge's capacity to act impartially as a judge;
(2) demean the judicial office; or
(3) interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties.
Further, Canon 4B 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.
In addition, the Commentary to Canon 4B instructs that:
[A] judge is in a unique position to contribute to the improvement of the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice, including revision of substantive and procedural law and improvement of criminal and juvenile justice.
In Opinion 93-39, a majority of this committee interpreted the commentary to Canon 4 to mean that a judge can assist in developing and drafting plans and proposals for programs that impact on the judicial system, particularly in the area of sentencing and rehabilitation.
Further, this committee, in Opinion 96-9, agreed that a judge may serve as a co-chairman of an organization called the Serious Habitual Offender Comprehensive Action Program or SHOCAP. The organization involved information sharing concerning juvenile offenders between groups such as the police, the schools, the state attorney, the public defender's office, HRS and the judiciary. All nine responding committee members unanimously agreed that the judge's participation in the program was ethically permissible. In finding the service allowable, this committee assumed that the information shared between the agencies was "not of a confidential nature" and that it "is not given to the judiciary ex parte." Under those circumstances, we concluded that the judge's participation and service as co-chairman were ethically permissible.
Upon reviewing the proposed agreement that is the subject matter of this inquiry, this committee finds that a judge's involvement with the proposed Coalition is ethically permissible. However, this committee's opinion is subject to the same assumptions as set forth in Opinion 96-9.
This committee refrains from addressing the issue of whether the chief judge of a circuit may sign such an agreement on behalf of the judges within the circuit. We note that the chief judge's proposed actions are in the nature of an administrative decision for which we decline to respond in this matter. Our decision is limited to the facts of this request.
Accordingly, it is appropriate for a judge to serve as a member of the Coalition. However, we do not address the issue of whether the chief judge of a circuit may sign the proposal so as to bind all of the judges within a circuit.
Florida Code of Judicial Conduct: Canons 4, 4A, 4B.
Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinions: 96-9 (May 29, 1996), 93-39 (June 28, 1993), and 93-23 (April 19, 1993).
The Judicial Ethics Advisory 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 by the Committee. Petition of the Committee on Standards of Conduct Governing Judges, Opinion No. 90,133 (Fla. September 4, 1997). However, in reviewing the recommendations of the Judicial Qualification Commission for discipline, the Florida Supreme Court will consider conduct in accordance with a Committee opinion as evidence of good faith. Id.
For further information, contact The Honorable Scott J. Silverman, Chairman, Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, The Richard E. Gerstein Justice Building, 1351 NW 12th Street #513, Miami, Florida 33125.
Participating Members: Judges Cardonne, Dell, Charles Kahn, Lisa Kahn, Rodriguez, Rushing, Silverman, Smith, Tolten and Attorney Blanton
Copies furnished to:
Justice Charles T. Wells
All Committee Members
All Members of the JQC
Office of the State Courts Administrator
(Name of judge deleted from this copy)