FLORIDA SUPREME COURT
JUDICIAL ETHICS ADVISORY COMMITTEE

Opinion Number: 99-23
Date of Issue: August 31, 1999

WHETHER A JUDGE MAY ACCEPT REIMBURSEMENT FOR HIS AIRLINE TICKET AND HOTEL ROOM EXPENSES WHEN HONORED AT THE FLORIDA ASSOCIATION OF CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAWYERS ANNUAL MEETING?
 

IF SO, MUST THE JUDGE REPORT THE REIMBURSEMENT AS A GIFT?

ISSUES

Whether a judge may accept reimbursement for his airline ticket and hotel room expenses when honored at the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers annual meeting?
ANSWER: Yes.

If so, must the judge report the reimbursement as a gift?
ANSWER: No.

FACTS

The inquiring judge recently received an award from the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. The award was presented in Key West, Florida, at the Association's annual meeting. The Association would like to reimburse the judge for his airline ticket and hotel room expenses. The inquiring judge asks whether he may accept the reimbursement, and, if so, must he report the reimbursement as a gift.

DISCUSSION

Generally, a judge may ethically 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 Opinions 98-10; 92-31; and 79-17. In Opinion 92-31, the Committee found that 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. The Committee specifically stated "the acceptance will not undermine public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary and there is no appearance of impropriety." Opinion 92-31.
Canon 5D(5)(a) states

A judge shall not accept, and shall urge members of the judge's family residing in the judge's household not to accept, a gift, bequest, favor or loan from anyone except for: ... an invitation to the judge and the judge's spouse or guest to attend a bar-related function or an activity devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system or the administration of justice.
The Commentary to Canon 5D(5)(a) provides that acceptance of an invitation to a law-related function is governed by Section 5D(5)(a), but acceptance of an invitation paid for by an individual lawyer or firm is governed by 5D(5)(h). See also Canon 5D(5)(h) and Commentary.

The Committee has previously found that acceptance of reimbursement for airfare and hotel room expenses by a lawyers' association is not in violation of the Canons. See Opinion 91-9 (free meal at County Bar Association meeting and hotel and food costs paid by lawyers' association judge addressed were allowed without the obligation to report); see also Opinion 91-20 (permissible to attend, speak and participate at the symposium, and accept air fare, hotel, and meal costs from the Justice Department without having to report same); Opinion 77-7 (acceptance of an honorarium and expense money was unanimously approved by the Committee, with a caveat that the amount and circumstances should be reported pursuant to Canon 6). Thus, the Committee finds that the inquiring judge may accept reimbursement for his airline ticket and hotel room expenses from the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers when honored at its annual meeting.

Canon 6B(2) states that a judge shall report all gifts which are required to be disclosed under Canon 5D(5)(h). The acceptance of reimbursement for expenses related to a law-related function is governed by Canon 5D(5)(a), therefore, the inquiring judge need not report it as a gift under Canon 6B(2). See also Opinions 91-9; 91-20; and 77-7. Please note, however, this Committee does not consider or interpret any statutory law that may require the reporting of gifts. See Ch. 112, Fla. Stat. (1999).

REFERENCES

Chapter 112, Florida Statutes (1999).

Florida Code of Judicial Conduct Canon 5D(5)(a) and Commentary; Canon 5D(5)(h) and Commentary; and Canon 6B(2).

Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinions: 77-7; 79-17; 91-9 ; 91-20; 92-31; and 98-10.

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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 C. McFerrin Smith, III, Chairman, Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, 130 West New York Avenue, DeLand, Florida 32720.

Participating Members: Judges

Copies furnished to:
Justice Peggy A. Quince
All Committee Members
All Members of the J.Q.C.
Office of the State Courts Administrator (Name of inquiring judge deleted from this copy)