FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

JUDICIAL ETHICS ADVISORY COMMITTEE

Opinion Number: 99-11

Date of Issue: April 14, 1999

WHETHER A JUDGE MAY SERVE ON A COUNTY FIRE BOARD?


ISSUE

Whether a judge may serve on a county fire board?

ANSWER: No.
FACTS

The inquiring judge has been asked to consider serving on a county fire board. The board's function is to set policy and procedures for the county fire department. The board handles budget matters, personnel guidelines and, if necessary, makes selections for nominees for new fire chiefs. The board does no fund-raising.

DISCUSSION

Canon 4D allows a judge to serve as a member, officer, director, trustee or non-legal advisor of an organization or governmental agency devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system or the administration of justice, subject to certain limitations and other requirements of the Code. Canon 5A requires a judge to regulate extrajudicial activities to minimize the risk of conflict with judicial duties. Pursuant to Canon 5C(2), a judge shall not accept appointment to a governmental committee or commission or other governmental position that is concerned with issues of fact or policy on matters other than the improvement of the law, the legal system or the administration of justice.


In Opinion 97-24, the inquiring judge had been requested to serve on an advisory board that would oversee a federal block grant secured by the local police department. The judge was concerned that his involvement might violate Canon 4D(1) because he regularly heard criminal cases in his county. The board would listen to presentations from police departments and citizens regarding how the grant money should be spent. The board would also "assist and advise the police department during the entire course of the grant."


The Committee found that pursuant to Canon 4D(1) and Canon 5A, the inquiring judge should not serve on the advisory board. "Service on such a board would place the judge in a position of advising on the question of how the local police department should spend its money and conduct its operations. Although such a function may be related to the administration of justice, the potential for conflict is quite high because the inquiring judge would in essence be serving as an advisor to the police department."


In Opinion 93-20 the Committee found that a judge should not serve on an advisory panel to deal with the city's police sergeant promotion process based upon Canon 5G, now renumbered as Canon 5C(2).


Serving on the fire board would place the inquiring judge in the position of advising the fire department on how to spend its money and conduct its operations and advising and recommending personnel procedures.

Again, the potential for conflict exists. Therefore, the Committee finds that the judge should not serve on the board of directors of the fire board.



REFERENCES

Florida Code of Judicial Conduct Canon 4D, 4D(1), 5A, and 5C(2).

Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinions: 93-20 and 97-24.


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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, 698 So.2d 834 (Fla. 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 Lisa D. Kahn, Chair, Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, Harry T. and Harriette V. Moore Justice Center, 2825 Judge Fran Jamieson Way, Viera, Florida, 32940-8006.


Participating Members: Judges Cardonne, C. Kahn, L. Kahn, Patterson, Rodriquez, Rushing, Swartz

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 inquiring judge deleted from this copy)