FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

JUDICIAL ETHICS ADVISORY COMMITTEE

Opinion Number: 99-17
Date of Issue: June 7, 1999

WHETHER A GENERAL MASTER/CHILD SUPPORT HEARING OFFICER MAY SERVE ON THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS OF A CHARITABLE ORGANIZATION?

ISSUE

Whether a general master/child support hearing officer may serve on the board of directors of a charitable organization?
ANSWER: YES.

FACTS

The inquiring party serves as a general master/child support hearing officer. She has been asked to become a member of the Board of Directors of Mission Sandbox, Inc., a not for profit organization. Mission Sandbox, Inc. is a charitable organization designed to provide support for disadvantaged families locally and abroad. The group's mission is to promote social, economic and educational participation and advancement for the impoverished with special emphasis on single parents, children, and youth; and to mobilize community revitalization with initial focus on the local community. The inquiring party would serve without compensation, and would not participate in fundraising.

DISCUSSION

The Application of the Code of Judicial Conduct states that general masters and child support hearing officers "shall, while performing judicial functions, conform with Canons 1, 2A, and 3, and such other provisions of this Code that might reasonably be applicable depending on the nature of the judicial function performed."

In Opinion 95-39 the Commissioner/ General Master Committee asked about the propriety of his service on the District IX Health and Human Services Board. The Committee in Opinion 95-39 found that a Commissioner/General Master must adhere to the Code only when performing a judicial function. The Committee in 95-39 therefore found that "serving on this Board is not a judicial function, and is exempt from Code requirements."

The Committee recedes from Opinion 95-39 to the extent that it found that Commissioners/General Masters must comply with Canons 1, 2A and 3 only while performing a judicial function. General Masters are quasi-judicial officers. They must therefore adhere to the same restrictions set forth in Canons 1, 2A, and 3 as any other judicial officer.

However, the Committee in Opinion 95-39 noted that even if the Code applied, service on the Health and Human Services Board would be permissible and consistent with the Code.

Canon 5 permits a judge to serve as an officer, director, trustee or non-legal advisor of an educational, religious, charitable, fraternal, sororal or civic organization. The Code restricts a judge from such service if it is likely that the organization will be engaged in proceedings that would ordinarily come before the judge or will be engaged frequently in adversary proceedings in the court of which the judge is a member. There is no indication that the Mission Sandbox, Inc. would fall into this type of limitation. However, if it does then the inquiring general master will have to re-examine his/her association with this organization.

In Opinion 94-08, the Committee found that a traffic magistrate could serve as a member of the board of directors and legal counsel to the Hebrew Free Loan Association which was a charitable organization making interest free loans. The Committee permitted this activity on the part of the inquiring traffic magistrate "since this organization will not appear before you in traffic court."

In Opinion 94-11, the Committee found that the inquiring judge could serve as the President of the Community Foundations for Palm Beach and Martin counties. The Community Foundation was a private, non-profit organization providing grants, scholarships, addressing the needs of children, education, art, health, social services and conservation of historical and cultural resources.

Therefore, the Committee finds that the inquiring general master/hearing officer may serve on the Board of Directors of Mission Sandbox, Inc.

It should be noted that one Committee member stated: "I agree that General Master----may serve on the particular board of directors in question. In my view, such service is expressly permitted by Canon 5. I am not sure it is really necessary to recede from opinion 95-39, although I do find myself in agreement ...that full-time general masters are quasi-judicial officers and are bound by the applicable code provisions."

REFERENCES

Florida Code of Judicial Conduct: Canons 1, 2A, 3, 5, and Application of the Code of Judicial Conduct.

Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinions: 94-08, 94-11 and 95-39.

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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, Dell, C. Kahn, L. Kahn, Patterson, Rushing, Silverman, Smith and 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)