FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2019-32 (Election)1
Date of Issue: November 15, 2019

ISSUE

May a judicial candidate who currently serves as a Special Magistrate refer to that position by name in campaign advertising?

ANSWER: Yes.

 

FACTS

This inquiry comes from a candidate for judicial office in the 2020 election cycle. The candidate currently serves as a Special Magistrate and conducts hearings involving petitions for involuntary placement and involuntary treatment. The relevant Florida Statutes, §§394.467(6)(a)(3) (part of the “Baker Act”) and 397.681(1) (the “Marchman Act”) both authorize the courts to appoint magistrates to preside over these hearings. The candidate would like to feature the term “magistrate” in campaign advertising.

 

DISCUSSION

Two prior opinions from this Committee have addressed this same question, but the later of the two appears to have generated some confusion. In Fla. JEAC Op. 90-17 a Traffic Magistrate wished to refer to that position in campaign literature. The Committee’s brief opinion expressed “no difficulty with . . . identifying yourself as a Traffic Magistrate.” While this would appear to green-light the current inquiring candidate’s proposal, the candidate is concerned that a different result may have been reached in Fla. JEAC Op. 06-16.

In the 2006 case the inquiring candidate had served for three years as a general master, child support hearing officer, and magistrate. The candidate asked several questions including (a) whether it was proper to use the term “magistrate” in advertising even though neither the legislature nor the Florida Supreme Court had authorized the use of that title until several years after the candidate began hearing cases; (b) whether the candidate’s promotional materials could include photos of the candidate wearing a black judicial robe, which practice was apparently allowed in the candidate’s circuit; and (c) whether the candidate could employ the word “preside” when describing the various hearings the candidate had handled.

The Committee found it understandable that a judicial candidate with this résumé would want to publicize such service. However, the fact remains that a distinction exists between the powers of magistrates and those of judges (who often must approve magistrates’ findings and legal conclusions), and it is important that a candidate not state or imply that s/he has judicial experience when the candidate does not. See Fla. JEAC Ops. 84-17 (chiding a candidate, who had served as a “Domestic Relations Commissioner” pursuant to a Circuit Court administrative order and whose literature had apparently implied the candidate was actually a Circuit Judge), 00-24 (wherein the Committee approved the use of the term “quasi-judicial experience” for a candidate who had held various positions such as traffic hearing officer and special master for a “juvenile smoking court”), and 04-20 (approving a candidate’s reference to service as a voluntary teen court “judge” so long as that information was not “present[ed] . . . out of context” without “giv[ing] the whole picture”). And see particularly In re Alley, 699 So. 2d 1369 (Fla. 1997), wherein a judge was disciplined for numerous misrepresentations in her campaign literature including claiming “judicial experience” for having served as a special master.

There is no suggestion that the inquiring candidate will attempt to claim actual judicial experience. Instead, the candidate appears to be most concerned that Fla. JEAC Op. 06-16 may have been intended to recede from Fla. JEAC Op. 90-17. We conclude that it was not. Instead, the focus of the 2006 opinion was much narrower. The inquiring candidate had held several titles, though the candidate may have performed similar functions in all three positions. Nevertheless the candidate wanted to use only the term magistrate, perhaps because the candidate felt it carried more gravitas than “hearing officer.” Although the Committee acknowledged that this could be “a matter of semantics” if all three positions performed essentially the same functions, we were unwilling to assume the title changes had been “simply for appearance sake.” It was also possible that they “represent[ed] an expansion of the responsibilities . . . delegated to that official.” Accordingly, we advised against “conflat[ing] the terms for . . . brevity’s sake.”

In other words, Op. 06-16 did not place limitations on the use of the term magistrate, so long as a candidate has actually held that title. Since it appears that the inquiring candidate has consistently been referred to as a Special Magistrate, it is permissible to note that prior service in campaign advertising.

 

REFERENCES

Fla. Stat. §§394.467(6)(a)(3) and 397.681(1)

In re Alley, 699 So. 2d 1369 (Fla. 1997)

Fla. JEAC Ops. 06-16, 04-20, 00-24, 90-17 and 84-17

_____________


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 of the Committee. See Petition of the Committee on Standards of Conduct Governing Judges, 698 So. 2d 834 (Fla. 1997). However, in reviewing the recommendations of the Judicial Qualifications Commission for discipline, the Florida Supreme Court will consider conduct in accordance with a Committee opinion as evidence of good faith.  See id.

The Committee expresses no view on whether any proposed conduct of an inquiring judge is consistent with substantive law which governs any proceeding over which the inquiring judge may preside.  The Committee only has authority to interpret the Code of Judicial Conduct, and therefore its opinions deal only with whether the proposed conduct violates a provision of that Code.

For further information, contact Judge W. Joel Boles, Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Chair, First Circuit M.C. Blanchard Judicial Building, 190 Governmental Center, 6th Floor, Pensacola, FL 32502 or JEAC@flcourts.org.

Members:
Judge Michael Andrews, Judge Roberto Arias, Judge Nina Ashenafi-Richardson, Judge W. Joel Boles, Judge Miguel de la O, Judge James A. Edwards, Judge David Green, Mark Herron, Esquire, Judge Jeffrey T. Kuntz, Judge Matthew C. Lucas, Judge Michael Raiden, and Charles Reynolds, Esquire.


All Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee opinions, subject matter indices, and a search engine are available on the Sixth Circuit’s website at www.jud6.org under Opinions. Committee opinions and related finding tools are also accessible on the Florida Supreme Court’s website at www.floridasupremecourt.org as a secondary posting under Court Opinions.

 

 

1. The Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee has appointed an Election Practices Subcommittee. The purpose of this subcommittee is to give immediate responses to campaign questions in instances where the normal Committee procedure would not provide a response in time to be useful to the inquiring candidate or judge. Opinions designated with the “(Election)” notation are opinions of the Election Practices Subcommittee of the Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, and have the same authority as an opinion of the whole Committee.