Friday, October 1, 2010
The Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee has opined on the following issue:
May a Judge participate in a program or skit for an American Inn of Court if the presenting group competes for a "best skit" award which includes a monetary contribution to a charity of the group's choice?
The inquiring judge is President of an American Inn of Court. The American Inns of Court was established in 1985 to promote the goals of legal excellence, civility, professionalism and ethics in the legal profession.
Each month a program is put on by a group composed of lawyers and judges. As an incentive for quality programs, the inquiring judge has suggested that an award be presented for the best skit and that a $500.00 contribution be made to the winning group's charity of choice. The contribution would not be made in the name of any particular judge or lawyer, but would be made in the name of the local Inn. All voting would be anonymous and no reference would be made to any judge who was a member of the winning group. One of the participating judges has expressed concern about the propriety of accepting such an award.
Not to worry:
This Committee can find no Canon of the Code of Judicial Conduct, or any commentary contained therein, that would preclude this activity.
Canon 4B encourages judges to participate in quasi-judicial activities concerning the law and the legal system. The contemplated activity involves conduct that concerns the law and the legal system. Canon 4(A) provides that such conduct must not cast reasonable doubt on the judge's capacity to act impartially, undermine the judge's independence, integrity, or impartiality, demean the judicial office, interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties, lead to frequent disqualification, or appear to a reasonable person to be coercive. The facts of this inquiry do not suggest any of the prohibitions set forth in Canon 4(A). To the contrary, the judge's participation in the program is a type of quasi-judicial activity which is encouraged by Canon 4B.
This inquiry does not involve a participating judge's role in fund- raising. The participating judge is not actively involved in a fundraising activity and is not utilizing the prestige of the judge's office to promote fundraising. The judge is merely designating a recipient of funds already in the coffers of the organization.
Finally, the inquiring judge, as an officer of an organization devoted to the improvement of the law and the legal system, may assist in the management and investment of the organization's funds. However, the judge may not personally or directly participate in the solicitation of funds.