FLORIDA SUPREME COURT
JUDICIAL ETHICS ADVISORY COMMITTEE
Opinion Number: 01-13
Date of Issue: July 9, 2001
MAY A JUDGE BELONG TO THE AMERICAN ISRAEL PUBLIC AFFAIRS COMMITTEE?ANSWER: Yes.
The inquiring judge is a member of an organization called the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). According to the inquiring judge, this is a lobbying group. The inquiring judge is not involved in fund-raising activities or membership solicitation, nor does he personally engage in lobbying for AIPAC. Further, according to the facts provided by the inquiring judge, AIPAC conducts its lobbying in Washington, D.C. The judge's participation in AIPAC consists of paying dues and occasionally attending luncheons.
For purposes of this inquiry, the Committee assumes that AIPAC is primarily a lobbying group that conducts its activities in Washington, D.C. As with all extrajudicial activities, membership in AIPAC is subject to the provisions of Canon 5A, Florida Code of Judicial Conduct, which provides that a judge shall conduct all extrajudicial 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.
This Committee has previously said that a judge may serve on the legislative committee of a lobbying organization, provided that the judge not be personally involved with any lobbying activities and not take part in any fund-raising activities. See Fla. JEAC Op. 97-19. The Committee found that service on the board of directors of an organization's legislative committee is permissible under Canon 5C(3). Id.
Under the present facts, the inquiring judge is a mere member of the organization and does not anticipate any involvement in the organization's fund-raising or lobbying activities. Accordingly, a majority of the Committee has determined that a judge may be a member of AIPAC. The Committee takes this opportunity to call the attention of Florida's judges to the Commentary to Canon 5C(3)(a), which appears to place an affirmative obligation upon judges with regard to their memberships and activities:
[T]he changing nature of some organizations and of their relationship to the law makes it necessary for a judge regularly to reexamine the activities of each organization with which the judge is affiliated to determine if it is proper for the judge to continue the affiliation.
Four members of the Committee disagree and would advise the inquiring judge that membership in AIPAC is prohibited. These members point out that the subject organization is very actively involved in political activities that do not concern the improvement of the law, the legal system of justice. These members believe that even limited involvement of paying dues and attending occasional luncheon meetings would allow the judge's presence to be "observable to all other persons who are also present, thereby indicating to those persons the moral support that the judge is lending to the political causes supported by the organization." They are also concerned that the group's membership roster will reflect that the inquiring judge financially supports the goals of the organization by being a dues-paying member.
Code of Judicial Conduct: Canons 5A, 5C(3), 5C(3)(a).
Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinion 97-19.
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 Judge Charles J. Kahn, Jr., Chairman, Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, 301 Martin Luther King, Jr., Blvd., Tallahassee, FL 32399-1850
Judge Charles J. Kahn, Jr.
Judge Gisela Cardonne
Judge Lisa D. Kahn
Judge Phyllis D. Kotey
Judge David Levy
Judge Scott J. Silverman
Judge C. McFerrin Smith, III
Judge Jeffrey D. Swartz
Judge Emerson Thompson
Judge Richard R. Townsend
Marjorie Gadarian Graham, Esquire