May 8, 1996

Opinion 96-6

Judge answering inquiry from
Board of Bar Examiners regarding
Bar applicant
Canon 2B

Re: Committee on Standards of Conduct Governing Judges
Your inquiry dated March 13, 1996

You inquire whether you can complete a questionnaire sent to you by the Florida Board of Bar Examiners. An applicant for admission to the Bar listed you as a character witness. You have known the applicant's family for approximately 25 years and socialize with them regularly. You have seen this family's children grow up, including the applicant. You are unsure whether your completion of the questionnaire would violate the code in light of the following:

The applicant had a somewhat troubled childhood leading to his having received psychiatric and/or psychological counseling and treatment. He was admitted to a prestigious college out of state but despite his high level of intelligence, did not do well. Finally, in his sophomore year he was accused of and ultimately plead guilty making (sic) telephone bomb threats as well as use of marijuana and malicious damage to his dorm room. Immediately upon his arrest he withdrew from school. Despite his expulsion the school proceeded with disciplinary action and he was formally expelled. The criminal proceedings were resolved in a fashion similar to Florida's provision for withholding adjudication.

He subsequently applied to Florida State University and was accepted. However, while a student there he was arrested on a misdemeanor breach of peace charge to which he ultimately plead no contest and was fined.

Upon graduation for Florida State University he was admitted to the University of Florida School of Law. However, he apparently he failed to truthfully report the situations I described above. Ultimately they were finally discovered leading to his being suspended from the University of Florida School of Law for a period of 2 years. Finally, he was readmitted and graduated in the top 10% of his class.

Subsequently, my recollection is that he successfully took the Florida Bar Exam but an investigation conducted by the Bar turned up these matters. His application for admission to the Bar was rejected and a full hearing was held I believe in 1994. Excerpts from the hearing reflected that the Bar found various reasons to refuse him admission centering primarily around his lack of candor and credibility despite his trying to explain his reasons for omissions both on his school applications as well as on his bar application.

You state that you believe the applicant has the intellectual ability to practice law, but question whether your completion of the questionnaire in light of the circumstances would violate any Canons.

Canon 2B provides that a judge is not to lend the prestige of office to advance the private interests of others and that a judge is not to testify voluntarily as a character witness. However, the commentary to this Canon states that a judge may serve as a reference based on personal knowledge. Additionally, the Committee has previously held, In Opinion 88-19, that it is permissible for a judge to complete a questionnaire presented by the Florida Board of Bar Examiners. Therefore, the ten responding members unanimously agree that you would not violate the Code by completing the questionnaire as long as you are truthful and include all pertinent information concerning the applicant's past.

The 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 issued by the committee. Petition of the Committee on Standards of Conduct for Judges, 327 So.2d 5 (Fla.1976).

Oliver L. Green, Jr.
Chairman, Committee on Standards of Conduct Governing Judges

cc: All Committee Members
Office of the State Courts Administrator
(name of judge deleted from this copy)

Participating Members: Judges Dell, Doughtie, Green, C. Kahn, L. Kahn, Patterson, Rushing, Silverman, Tolton and Attorney Novicki