January 12, 1995
PERSONAL AND CONFIDENTIAL
(Reconsideration Tiger Bay
Re: Committee on Standards of Conduct Governing Judges
Your Inquiry Dated November 18, 1994
You have requested that this Committee review Opinion 92-28 in which the Committee found that a judge may not become a member of a Tiger Bay Club due to the fact that such organizations are heavily involved in "political affairs".
In Opinion 92-28, this Committee by a 6-4 margin, found that a judge should not become a member of a Tiger Bay Club because it was a "political" organization and, thus, proscribed by Canon 7(A). Additionally, the majority felt that the membership application of the club "may be interpreted to indicate a select membership, which runs afoul of the intent and philosophy found in Canon 5(A) and (B)."
In Opinion 75-21, which was not raised in the Committee's consideration of Opinion 92-28, the Committee found that a judge could join the "Bull Snort Forum, Inc." which was apparently very similar to the Tiger Bay Clubs. The Committee found a distinction between "partisan" political activity and "bipartisan" or "nonpartisan" political activity, when it held the following:
Each agrees that so long as this club is not engaged in political activities for the political advantage of a person or party, you may, under the Code of Judicial Conduct, ethically become a member of the club. However, one member observed that being a member of a club with a motto of "politics for the sake of politics" would be like skating on thin ice.
That is, it would require constant attention so as not to be placed in a partisan position by the club, and thus inadvertently violate Canon 7, or Section 105.071 FSA.
In re-addressing this issue, a majority of the Committee agrees that Tiger Bay Clubs are essentially public awareness organizations that address political and societal issues. The Tiger Clubs are bipartisan in membership and nonpartisan in nature and it does not appear to be the type of organization proscribed by Canon 7. In fact, it is the Committee's understanding that the speakers and topics often deal with timely issues involving "improving the law, the legal system or the administration of justice", as well as many other current community topics of the day. Additionally, the Committee believes that barring judicial membership would further isolate a judge's ability to see and hear political and academic presentations and debates in their local community.
Thus, after reviewing the above referenced Opinions, the present Code of Judicial Conduct and the activities of Tiger Bay Clubs, six of the responding members believe that the Committee should recede from Opinion 92-28 and allow judges to attend meetings and become members of nonpartisan or bipartisan organizations which may be involved in political issues, such as the Tiger Bay Clubs. However, this is with the caveat that any judges who become members of a Tiger Bay Club must be constantly on guard not to be placed in a partisan position or act for the political advantage of a person or party.
The dissenting judge stated that, "I hold the proposition that judges should not be members of a group which has for its primary agenda the advancement of a political program. The partisan distinction is not persuasive for me."
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 judges, 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, 327 So.2d 5 (Fla. 1976).
Very truly yours,
Steve Rushing, Chairman
Committee on Standards of Conduct
CC: All Committee Members Participating Members: Judges Doughtie, Office
of the State Courts Administrator Farina, Green, Kahn, Rushing, Taylor,
(Name of judge deleted from this copy) Tolton