Thursday, May 20, 2010
The Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee opines that a judge may appear at a school event relating to the foreclosure crisis along with the President of the United States:
No provision of the Code would prohibit the judge’s appearance at the school function, whether or not the President also spoke. The inquiring judge is justifiably concerned that appearing on the same podium with the President, or with any high-profile member of either of the political branches of government, might give the impression that the judge supported the politician with whom the judge appeared.
However, the value of the inquiring judge’s speaking (whether or not the President appears) is illustrated by the question, in which the judge indicates an intention to remind the students of the judiciary’s role in the fair administration of justice, which requires judges to administer the law fairly to all litigants, including both property owners and lenders. In other words, the students will be reminded that judges are required to apply the law, regardless of the economic conditions faced by a community and regardless of any personal sympathies which a judge may have toward the plight of a litigant.
The inquiring judge, just as at all speeches, must ensure that the judge’s comments do not violate any other provision of the Code. If the President attends, the inquiring judge may need to take additional steps to ensure that this speech makes clear that the judge is not there to advocate a position, either for or against anything the President or any other speaker may say, but instead to explain the role of the judiciary in foreclosure cases.
Judges are not simply permitted by the Code to give such speeches concerning the judicial process, but are encouraged to do so, in order to educate the public concerning the role of the independent judiciary in our state and nation. The fact that a judge may be on the same program with a politician does not negate the rationale of this provision of the Code, but indeed reinforces its importance. A judge speaking on the same program with a politician will remind the audience of the different roles which the speakers play in our system of government.