Florida Supreme Court

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 98-10

Date of Issue: June 24, 1998


JUDGE ACCEPTING AN AWARD AT A NON-FUNDRAISING EVENT


ISSUE

May a judge be honored by and receive an award from the Exchange ClubCastle at a ceremony? ANSWER: Assuming the event is not a fundraiser,the judge may be present at the ceremony to receive the award and to behonored. If the event is a fundraiser, the judge is precluded from receivingthe award and from being honored.

FACTS

The inquiring judge is invited to an awards dinner and ceremony honoringfamily attorneys and mediators for their "dedication to the Familiesand Children of The Treasure Coast and the support of The Families FirstProgram."

During the awards portion of the evening, the sponsoring organizationintends to present an award to the inquiring judge. The organization isnot using the judge's name or title on its invitations or solicitationsfor attendance at the event.

The Exchange Club Castle, the sponsor of the event, provides child abuseservices. The cost to attend the affair is $50 per person. This committeeis advised in a letter to the inquiring judge from the eventís organizer,that it "is not a fund raiser. The proceeds from the ticket sales areto be used to defray the expenses of the event."

For purposes of this opinion, this committee assumes the preceding representationsto be accurate and that the event is not a fundraiser, despite the $50 perperson charge.

When the event was originally proposed, the written invitation askedprospective attendees "to recognize the Honorable Judge _______, CircuitJudge for the __th Judicial Circuit, along with selected attorneys and mediatorsfor their dedication to the Families and Children..." The invitationdid not specify the amount that must be paid to attend the event. Ultimately,that invitation was modified and deleted the inquiring judge's name andtitle.

DISCUSSION

Canon 4 is entitled, "A Judge May Engage in Activities to Improvethe Law, the Legal System, and the Administration of Justice." Specifically,Canon 4D(2)(a) provides:

A judge as an officer, director, trustee or non-legal advisor, or as a member or otherwise:

(a) may assist such an organization in planning fund-raising and may participate in the management and investment of the organization's funds, but shall not personally participate in the solicitation of funds or other fund-raising activities, except that a judge may solicit funds from other judges over whom the judge does not exercise supervisory or appellate authority; [emphasis added]

The Commentary to Canon 4D(2) is helpful to responding to the currentinquiry. It provides, "A judge must not be a speaker or guest ofhonor at an organization's fund-raising event, but mere attendanceat such an event is permissible if otherwise consistent with this Code."[emphasis added]

This committee has long held that it is improper for a judge to be aspeaker or guest of honor at an organization's fundraising event. See,Opinion 96-3 (A majority of this committee held that it is impermissible for a judge to be recognized as a guest of honor at a fundraising event at which he is to be inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in Israel. The majority concluded that the duties and position of the judge are not removed even if the sponsoring organization deletes the judge's name and title. As such, the judge remains subject to the Code.); Opinion 86-5 (A majority of this committee concluded that a judge is ethically prohibited from accepting an invitation to appear as one of four speakers at a Prevention of Blindness Charity Fundraising Honorarium for an outstanding public figure. This committee reviewed Canon 5B(2) [the predecessor of the current 5C(3)(b)] which prohibited judges from soliciting funds for any educational, religious, charitable, fraternal or civic organization. The Canon also prohibited judges from being speakers or guests of honor at such an organization's fundraising events.We noted that the inquiring judge could attend as a guest.); Opinion76-8 (In addressing former Canon 5 B(2), this committee stated, "[Ajudge] should not be a speaker or the guest of honor at an organization's fund raising events, but he may attend such events."); Opinion74-14 (Pursuant to former Canon 5B(2) and (3), "a judge should be sure that the prestige of his office will not be utilized for the solicitation of funds; he should not be a speaker or guest of honor at fund raising events...").

Generally, a judge may ethically speak or be honored at event that is not a fundraising event, so long as it is not otherwise prohibited by the Code of Judicial Conduct. See, Opinion92-31 (A judge presiding in a criminal division of the court is ethically permitted to accept an award from a criminal defense lawyer organization recognizing the judge's sensitivity to the rights of the individual.);Opinion 79-17 (A judge may ethically be the guest of honor at a dinner sponsored by a university located outside of Florida, sit at the head table, and accept an award for voluntary services rendered before ascending to the bench. This committee cautioned the judge not to engage in any fund raising activities.); Cf, Opinion83-11 (A judge may accept an award for services to the Jewish Community while the synagogue is conducting a State of Israel Bonds Drive. Several members of this committee added the caveat that the judge scrupulously avoids giving the impression that he or she is in any way connected with the fund drive. One member of the committee suggested that the solicitation activities and the award be conducted separately and distinctly, and with the judge being absent from the podium, state, or head table during the fund soliciting portion of the program.).

Even though an event is not a fundraiser, a judge's appearance as the guest of honor may, at times, be precluded by the Code of Judicial Conduct.See, Opinion 90-20 (A majorityof this committee held a judge's presence and participation as aguest of honor would be prohibited if it enhances an associated fund raising activity. Under the facts of that opinion, it was anticipated that patrons of the event might purchase journal advertisements dedicated to the judge as the guest of honor, even though the judge does not engage in any fundraising, Id. The advertisements were one of the main institutional fundraising activities.); Opinion 88-2 (Amajority of this committee held that a judge is ethically prohibited fromreceiving an award from a partisan political club at its meeting honoring elected female officials.).

Based upon the information presented to this committee by the inquiring judge, we must assume the proffered facts to be accurate. Accordingly, we are assuming the event at which the judge will be honored is not a fundraiser. Given the $50.00 per person charge for attendance at the event, members of this committee have expressed some difficulty with that assumption. Under these circumstances and assumptions, the judge may be present to receive the award and honor from the Exchange Club Castle. If, however, the event is a fundraiser, the inquiring judge would be precluded from doing so.

REFERENCES

Florida Code of Judicial Conduct: Canons 4; 4D(2); 4D(2)(a); former Canon5B(2) and (3); 5C(3)(b)].

Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinions: 96-3;92-31; 90-20;88-2; 86-5;83-11; 79-17;76-8; 74-14

__________________

The Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee is expressly charged with rendering advisory opinions interpreting the application of the Code of Judicial Conductto 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 ofthe 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, Patterson, Rodriguez, Rushing, Silverman, Smith, Tolten, and Attorney Blanton


Copies furnished to:

Justice Charles T. Wells
All Committee Members
All Members of the J.Q.C.
Office of the State Courts Administrator (Name of judge deleted from thiscopy)