October 28, 2010
Judge May Not Advocate For Grandson Of Friend
The (very active) Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee has opined on the following issue:
Can a judge write a letter to another judge to advocate a drug program or testify before that other judge to explain the drug program that can be used as an alternative to incarceration, in a case involving a relative of the requesting judges' friend?
The inquiring judge's friend [sic] grandson has a criminal case pending before another judge in the same jurisdiction. The inquiring judge asks if it would be proper for the judge to either write a letter to the presiding judge advocating a drug program which may be used as an alternative to incarceration or, if subpoenaed, appear before the presiding judge to explain the program.
The conduct contemplated by the inquiry seeks to place the judge as a witness to explain a drug treatment program to the presiding judge. There appear to be no unusual circum-stances, like an absence of other qualified witnesses, that would make the appearance of the judge necessary to explain the drug program. Therefore, the demands of justice do not require the judge's appearance. The committee assumes that there are other witnesses that the defendant could summon to testify and explain the program to the presiding judge. The only other reason why a person might want to use the testimony of this judge then would be to use the prestige of the judicial office to advocate the use of this program and to be able to use the position of this judge as a colleague to further the defendant's cause and not be sentenced to jail.
The committee is of the opinion that this contemplated conduct will violate Canons 2A and B, 3B(9) and 4A in that the testimony on behalf of the judge's friend's grandson will lend the prestige of the judicial office to advance the private interests of others; the appearance as a witness by the judge will erode public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary; will be perceived as testimony seeking to affect the out-come of the sentencing proceeding; will cast doubt on the judge's capacity to act impartially as a judge; and undermine the judge's independence, integrity or impartially. Therefore, the inquiring judge should not appear as a witness before the presiding judge.
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