FLORIDA SUPREME COURT

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Opinion Number: 2020-14 (Election)1
Date of Issue: May 18, 2020

ISSUE

May a candidate’s Committee of Interested Persons solicit financial contributions through a fundraising letter which contains a list of the Committee members, including close family members of the candidate?

ANSWER: No.

 

FACTS

The inquirer, a candidate for judicial election, has established a Committee of Interested Persons (Committee) as allowed by Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 7C(1). Some of the members are close family members of the inquirer. The Committee wishes to send out a campaign letter which includes a solicitation for financial contributions and support. The Committee plans to include a list of the Committee members in the letterhead.


DISCUSSION

Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 7A(3)(b), the (Code) requires the Candidate for Judicial office to “encourage members of the candidate’s family to adhere to the same standards of political conduct in support of the candidate as applies to the candidate.” Section 7C(1) prohibits a candidate from soliciting “campaign funds, or solicit attorneys for publicly stated support.” On the other hand, this section allows the candidate to establish a committee of interested persons “to secure and manage the expenditures of funds for the candidate’s campaign and to obtain public statements of support for his or her candidacy,” including any person or corporation or attorney at law. The definition section of the Code, provides that, ‘Members of the Candidate’s family’ “denotes a spouse, child, grandchild, parent, grandparent, or other relative with whom the candidate maintains a close familial relationship.”

The Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee (JEAC) has previously considered circumstances involving candidates’ family and these sections of the Code of Judicial Conduct. Recently, in Fla. JEAC Op. 20-07, the JEAC examined the requirements of the above Canons and applied the prohibition of soliciting campaign funds to family members as defined by the Canons. There we opined that the candidate’s father-in-law could send a solicitation letter, so long as he was not a close family member of the candidate.

The JEAC has historically and consistently held that, when the candidate is required by the Canons to “encourage” family members not to do what the Canons prohibit the candidate from doing, the candidate may not condone the family members’ conduct. 2 For example, these sections have led to the JEAC finding that a candidate’s parents could not author and send a letter soliciting campaign contributions to their friends and acquaintances. Fla. JEAC Op. 08-09.

Likewise, while the Committee could hold a campaign function at candidate’s parents’ home, neither the candidate nor the parents could be present when the solicitation for funds were to be made. Fla. JEAC Op. 12-14. Additionally, the JEAC and the Florida Supreme Court found that a candidate cannot knowingly allow the spouse to attend a political party function and campaign on the candidate’s behalf. Fla. JEAC Op. 12-16; In Re Angel, 867 So. 2d 379 (Fla. 2004).

However, when it relates to a political arena, the JEAC has recognized that the spouse has autonomy and they may engage in their own political activities. Such an exception is not applicable to fundraising. Lastly, while the Code allows judges’ names to be listed as an officer of an organization in the organization fundraising letters, unlike here, the fundraising being sought by those organizations are not for the benefit of the judge. Commentary to Canon 4D(2) and Canon 5C(3)(b).

In sum, the letter from the Committee soliciting contributions may not list the candidate’s close family members.

 

REFERENCES

In Re Angel, 867 So. 2d 379 (Fla. 2004)

Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 4D, Canon 5C, Canon 7A and Canon 7C

Fla. JEAC Ops. 20-07, 12-16, 12-14, 08-09

_____________


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.

Election Subcommittee Members:
Judge Roberto Arias, Mark Herron, Esquire, Judge Matthew C. Lucas and Judge Michael Raiden.

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.


Copies furnished to:
Inquiring Judge (name deleted)
Chief Justice Charles T. Canady, Justice Liaison
John Tomasino, Supreme Court Clerk
All Committee Members
General Counsel of the JQC
Melissa Hamilton, JEAC Staff Counsel

 

 

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.

2. This prohibition is similar to the one found in Canon 7C(3). This provision  requires the candidate to prohibit employees (Judicial Assistants) and to discourage other employees and officials subject to the candidate’s direction and control to do what the candidate is prohibited from doing by Canon 7.