Florida Judicial - EXTRAJUDICIAL ACTIVITIES
The Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee issues an opinion addressing whether a judge may accept a referral fee for a case the judge referred before going on the bench. [Added 9/4/15]
A judge asked the Florida Supreme Court’s Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee for an opinion regarding whether, after taking judicial office, the judge may accept a referral fee from a law firm for a case the judge referred before going on the bench. The Committee concluded that the judge may accept a fee only on a quantum meruit basis.
The judge had referred a personal injury contingent fee case. The judge signed the fee agreement as required by Rule 4-1.5(g), Rules Regulating The Florida Bar. As required under Rule 4-1.(g), the fee agreement specified that the referring lawyer (now the judge) agreed to accept joint legal responsibility for the case and to be available to consult with the client.
The judge assumed judicial office after making the referral and before suit was filed. As a sitting judge, however, the judge cannot comply with the requirements in the fee agreement. Canon 5G of the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct generally prohibits a judge from practicing law. Further, Canons 5A, 5E, and 5G prevent a judge from matters that the judge handled as a lawyer with the client or with successor counsel. As a result, the judge is limited to a fee based on quantum meruit. See Florida Ethics Opinion 90-3.
The Committee also opined that the judge must enter an order of recusal on all cases involving the law firm to whom the referral fee case was referred, “without waiting for a party to ask.”Judicial Ethics Advisory Opinion 2015-10.
Judge may model in fashion show where proceeds primarily benefit free childcare facility located in courthouse. [Added 7/22/14]
Judge is a member of a regional association for women lawyers. The association is putting on its annual “spring cocktail party and fashion show.” Judge has been asked to model fashions in the show. The proceeds of the event will primarily benefit a free childcare facility located in the courthouse but also will be used to help fund the association’s law school scholarships. Judge asked the Supreme Court’s Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee if it would be ethically permissible for her to participate.
The Committee answered in the affirmative. Canon 4B(2)(b) of the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct provides that a judge may “be featured on the program of . . . an event of such an organization or entity [devoted to improving the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice], but if the event serves a fund-raising purpose, the judge may participate only if the event concerns the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice and the funds raised will be used for a law related purpose(s) . . .”
In the view of the Committee, the association is devoted to improvement of the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice, and the childcare facility contributes to the administration of justice “by decreasing continuances due to childcare issues” and “helping childcare providers to honor their required court appearances and by providing a safe and convenient childcare service for their children during such appearances.” Judicial Ethics Advisory Opinion 2014-07.
Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee concludes that judge may not appear in video to discuss helpful technological development used in s circuit, where video may be shown by product vendor for marketing purposes. [Added 6/11/14]
A judge has been asked to appear in a video for a technology company that developed technology used in the judge’s circuit. The technology has worked well and resulted in cost savings. The video would be shown at a technology conference. The judge has not been asked to endorse the company or its product, but rather to provide a statement on the effectiveness, versatility, and usefulness of the equipment in the courtroom.
The judge asked the Florida Supreme Court’s Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee for an advisory opinion regarding whether the proposed conduct is ethically permissible. The Committee answered in the negative.
Canon 2 of the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct prohibits judges from lending the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of others. However, Canon 4 encourages judges to engage in activities to improve the law and the legal system. The Committee reconciled these two admonitions this way: “Canon 2B’s prohibition against lending the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of another, overrides the permissive language of Canon 4 and limits the judge’s ability to participate in the video. That a marketing company is involved in the production of the video and that it is to be shown at a large technology conference and posted on the company’s website, are facts that strongly suggest that the primary purpose of the video is to promote the technology to other potential purchasers. The judge’s participation in the video extolling the virtues of the system as well as its costs savings, at a minimum would be an indirect endorsement of the product and whether an indirect or direct endorsement, undeniably would result in lending the prestige of the judicial office to advance the private commercial interests of the technology company.” Judicial Ethics Advisory Opinion 2014-06.
Newly-appointed judge may continue to “disk jockey” show on commercial radio station, per Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee. [Added 2/23/14]
Judge was recently appointed to the bench. Prior to that appointment, for many years Judge hosted a show playing “classic hits” on a commercial radio station. Judge “acted essentially as a disk jockey – introducing songs, giving the weather, and dispensing music trivia about the songs/artists played.” Judge’s show contained pre-recorded ads, but Judge was not involved in their selling or recording. Occasionally Judge participated in on-air giveways of a product or service. Judge was not an employee of the radio station, but was paid $20 per hour for “live” on-air time – amounting to $60 per week.
Judge asked the Florida Supreme Court’s Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee if it would be ethically permissible to continue hosting the radio show. The Committee answered with a qualified “yes” – Judge may host the show in compliance with relevant provisions of the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct.
Extrajudicial activities such as this are governed by Canon 5A, which requires a judge to conduct extrajudicial activities so that they do not: “(1) cast reasonable doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially as a judge; (2) undermine the judge’s independence, integrity, or impartiality; (3) demean the judicial office; (4) interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties; (5) lead to frequent disqualification of the judge; or (6) appear to a reasonable person to be coercive.”
Although Canon 5D(3) prohibits judges from being employees of any business entity. Judge was an independent contractor rather than an employee. The “nomial compensation” paid by the station to Judge for the “minimal weekends hours of disk jockeying” was not a problem, in the Committee’s view. Judge must comply with the compensation restrictions of Canon 6A.
Finally, Judge should be sure not to “lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or others.” Canon 2B. This means that Judge could not record ads and must refrain “from participation in any on-air promotions, contests or commercials.” Judicial Ethics Advisory Opinion 2014-03.
Judge may attend “God and Country Day” sponsored by local church, per Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee. [Added 1/9/14]
An inquiring judge asked the Florida Supreme Court’s Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee several questions relating to an invitation that the judge (and other elected officials) received from a local church that was having a “God and Country Day” focusing on “the U.S. Constitution, the laws of the state and country, and its foundation in Judeo-Christian values.” The Committee summarized the questions and answers as follows:
QUESTION: “May a judge attend an annual event called ‘God and Country Day,’ organized by a local church which focuses on the laws of the state and country and its foundation in Judeo-Christian values?
QUESTION: “Is it permissible for a judge to pose for a photograph with the pastor and other elected officials, knowing that it would be published in a local newspaper?
ANSWER: Yes, unless the judge is aware or has reason to believe that the pastor intends to use the photograph to advance the private interests of the church through solicitation of members or donations.”
QUESTION: “If asked, may the judge make public religious comments from the pulpit at this event?
ANSWER: Yes, as long as the judge’s comments do not otherwise violate the Canons.” Judicial Ethics Advisory Opinion 2014-03.
Judge may present a “challenge coin” to jurors, court personnel, or citizens in recognition of contributions to court or community. [Added 1/9/14] -- Judicial Ethics Advisory Opinion 2013-22.
Supreme Court’s Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee issues 3 opinions concerning judges’ involvement in extra-judicial activities. [Added 10/31/13] --
Permissible: Judge serving on board development committee of scouting organization – Judicial Ethics Advisory Opinion 2013-16.
Permissible: Judge participating in cook-off competition where winners receive awards – Judicial Ethics Advisory Opinion 2013-17.
Not permissible: Judges in domestic violence division participating in fundraising event sponsored by organization that supports domestic violence victims. Judicial Ethics Advisory Opinion 2013-18.
Judge may not use office in building owned by the judge in which judge previously practiced law with family members who still practice there. [Added 6/6/13] -- Judicial Ethics Advisory Opinion 2013-13.
General magistrate may take advantage of “government rate” discount for tickets to local legal aid organization’s annual gala. [Added 6/6/13] -- Judicial Ethics Advisory Opinion 2013-12.
Judge may write letter informing former client that judge no longer practices, and enclosing copies of documents that former client needs. [Added 6/3/13] -- Judicial Ethics Advisory Opinion 2013-11.
Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee answers questions relating to judge’s proposed participation in public service announcements. [Added 5/16/13] -- Judicial Ethics Advisory Opinion 2013-10.
Judge may reach out to family and friends about dependency court and guardian ad litem program in effort to obtain more volunteers. [Added 5/16/13] -- Judicial Ethics Advisory Opinion 2013-09.
Judge may not write letter of recommendation in support of friend’s application for real estate license where friend has prior misdemeanor arrest. [Added 5/14/13] -- Judicial Ethics Advisory Opinion 2013-08.
Judge may be on board of non-profit organization dedicated to giving financial help to needy recipients referred by local law enforcement agency. [Added 4/30/13] -- Judicial Ethics Advisory Opinion 2013-06.
Judge may serve as paid college football referee as long as it does not conflict with judicial duties. [Added 4/26/13] -- Judicial Ethics Advisory Opinion 2013-07.
Judge in dependency division may permit donation of items for children to play with while in court. [Added 2/19/13] -- Judicial Ethics Advisory Opinion 2013-05.
Ethically permissible for sitting judge to collect contingent fee from matters on which judge secured settlement offers before taking office. [Added 2/11/13] -- Judicial Ethics Opinion 2013-4.
Judge ethically precluded from sitting on county task force to address election issues encountered in recent election. [Added 2/7/13] -- Judicial Ethics Advisory Opinion 2013-03.
Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee addresses when judicial appointee may sell law practice, including goodwill, and collect payments over time. [Added 2/5/13] -- Judicial Ethics Advisory Opinion 2013-01.
Judge may not attend religious organization’s fundraising dinner after organization mailed invitations listing judge as a “host” by mistake. [Added 1/2/13] -- Judicial Ethics Advisory Opinion 2012-36.