Wednesday, October 27, 2010

No Spirit, No Excellence

An opinion from the Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee:

ISSUE

Whether a judge may accept the “Spirit of Excellence” Government Leader of the Year Award from an organization whose purpose is to provide business training and networking opportunities for women, where the award will be presented at a ceremony not advertised as a fundraiser but at which event expenses will be paid by the sale of tickets to the event and by congratulatory, business or personal ads in an event publication and where the organization will conduct a raffle to raise money for a scholarship fund.

ANSWER: No.

Reasoning:

We have opined repeatedly that judges may not participate in fundraisers where the event’s purpose is not law-related.  See Fla. JEAC Op. 09-07 (judge may not receive award at fundraiser for organization that is mainly involved in education programs because event would not concern the law, the legal system or the administration of justice, and the funds raised would not be used for law related purpose); Fla. JEAC Op. 08-22 (judge may not appear as “dignitary guest” in fund-raising ballet, sponsored by ballet company organized as charitable organization, and allow company to use judge’s name and title to advertise event); Fla. JEAC Op. 03-16 (judge may not participate in voluntary bar association’s fundraising event by providing goods for sale or auction, performing skit, displaying talent, being a model, or otherwise performing at event); Fla. JEAC Op. 01-09 (judge may not participate as featured speaker at fundraising roast of prominent local figure); Fla. JEAC Op. 00-31 (judge may not act as chairperson of kickoff event for fundraising organization); Fla. JEAC Op. 99-15 (judge may not be guest speaker at college alumni banquet, when banquet is main fund-raiser for alumni club); Fla. JEAC Op. 98-32 (judge may not participate in charity fashion show by announcing winning tickets and describing items won); Fla. JEAC Op. 90-20 (judge may not participate as guest of honor at charitably-funded institution’s dinner where patrons may purchase journal advertisements dedicated to the judge, and distribution of journal is one of institution’s main fundraising activities); and Fla. JEAC Op. 90-12 (judge may not serve as chairman of golf tournament, even though judge would neither participate in solicitation of funds nor be identified as judge in materials associated with tournament, where entity sponsoring tournament is nonprofit organization which raises funds to support sports activities).

In Fla. JEAC 99-09 the Committee advised a judge that she could not receive an award and be inducted into a County Women’s Hall of Fame at an annual luncheon where program advertisements had been sold to raise funds for the sponsoring organization.  We noted that while the luncheon itself was not a fundraiser, the organization’s “major source of income [was] through advertising in the program,” which was a souvenir journal in which the public could purchase ads congratulating the inductee(s).  Thus, the ultimate purpose of the luncheon was to raise funds for the organization.

In conclusion, the fact that the sponsoring organization does not bill an event as a fundraiser is not dispositive.  If the event has the characteristics of a fundraiser, it must be considered as such, labels notwithstanding.  Further, as a practical matter, whether the event will realize a profit is unknowable in advance, and so the likelihood of a profit cannot be used to determine if the event is intended to be a fundraiser.

A dissenting view, in part reprinted here;

While the organization will conduct a raffle at the event to raise money for a scholarship fund, this appears to be an incidental activity and not a substantial part of the event.  Thus, the minority does not perceive that the conduct of the raffle transforms the event into a fund-raising activity.  The minority is aware that a number of civic and charitable organizations, including Rotary clubs and churches, conduct raffles as an incidental part of a meeting or event. The raffle at the subject awards dinner does not appear to be a major part of the purpose of the event, based upon the judge’s inquiry. Thus, it does not convert this event to a fundraiser in the opinion of the minority.

(Mike Frisch)

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