Saturday, May 15, 2010

Harry Potter And The Florida Judge

It is ethically permissible for a judge to author and promote a children's book, according to a recent opinion of the Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee. The committee considered the activity to be "avocational" in nature:

An "avocational activity" is defined as a subordinate occupation or hobby (Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, 1960).  Therefore, the Code encourages activities such as writing a book on non-legal subjects, if the writing is otherwise consistent with the requirements of the Code.

In Fla. JEAC Op. 89-06, this Committee advised that it was permissible for a judge to author a book, to give a book to a member of the bar, and to autograph a book purchased by an attorney.  However, the Committee advised against the judge selling the book to a member of the bar.  This would not be proper under the Code, because it may be perceived to exploit the judge's position or involve the judge in frequent transactions with lawyers likely to appear before the court, all in violation of Canon 5D(1).

Likewise, in Fla. JEAC Op. 98-01, this Committee advised that a judge may ethically write a crime novel so long as it does not cast reasonable doubt on the judge's capacity to act impartially as a judge; demean the judicial office; or interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties. Canon 5A.  This caveat applies to the current inquiry.

An example of when a judge cannot engage in a specific avocational activity is found in Fla. JEAC Op. 07-04.  In that inquiry a judge was advised that it would be improper to sell at a Sheriff's fundraiser custom-made knives which were readily identifiable as made by the judge.  The Committee further advised that the judge should not donate these items to other community organizations for charitable fundraising purposes.  However, the Committee had no problem with the judge selling these knives at trade shows, by special order, or on the internet.  The selling of the knives at auction was disapproved, not because the product was being sold to the public, but because the prestige of judicial office was being used to promote a fundraiser.  No aspect of the current inquiry involves fundraising.

Finally, this Committee believes that posting a photograph of the judge on the author page of the book, having a book signing, and mentioning that the author is a judge are permissible under the Code.  Such activities are reasonable and commonplace for publishers and are incidental to the avocational activity of the author.  These activities do not appear to lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of others; do not cast reasonable doubt on the judge's capacity to act impartially; do not undermine the judge's independence, integrity or impartiality; nor do they demean the judicial office.

Therefore, this Committee advises that the contemplated activity is encouraged by the Code so long as the judge remains within the parameters of all other requirements of the Code.

Just be careful not to "friend" anyone in the process. (Mike Frisch)

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