September 29, 2011
Judge May Not Serve
A recent judicial ethics opinion from Florida:
May a judge serve as a member of the wait staff at a charitable organization’s fundraiser luncheon when the wait staff will be comprised of only elected officials and contributions will be solicited and collected at the event by the non-judicial wait staff?
The inquiring judge has been invited to attend a fundraiser for a respected organization that provides emergency shelter, food, clothing, case management and spiritual guidance to the disadvantaged, needy and homeless and to abused women and children. The inquiring judge would be one of several elected officials who would be the wait staff at the organization’s fundraiser luncheon. The wait staff will be comprised of only elected officials, and they will wear special aprons showing support for the organization. None of the wait staff will be asked to collect or solicit money. Members of the wait staff are not featured individually at the program. Members of the wait staff, referred to as “servants,” are not named; however, they are asked to gather as a group for a general thank you at the end of the program. Their names are not used in any pre-event advertisements. The inquiring judge will not be asked to solicit money in any way, from any person at the event. Other non-judicial “servants” will collect money at the end of the event, and one non-judicial “servant” will be making a personal appeal for contributions at the end of the luncheon.
The inquiring judge has been involved with this event for the past seven years.
The facts presented by the inquiring judge here do not fall in the commentary’s permitted category of “food server.” By using only elected officials as its wait staff, or “servants,” the charitable organization has made the judge a featured participant, whose presence is requested to enhance the collection of contributions. Elected officials who are not judges will be collecting money at the end of the event. A personal appeal for funds will be made at the end of the event by a non-judicial “servant.” The judge is then thrust into the business of fundraising, whether the judge intends this or not. The inquiring judge should not participate as a member of the wait staff for this fund-raising event.
One dissenting member of the committee views the majority opinion as a refusal to accept and implement the policy changes adopted by the Supreme Court with the 2008 amendments to the Code and Commentary; the dissenting member states that being a food server at a charity’s fund-raising event is specifically mentioned with conditional approval in the present commentary, and the dissenting member believes this proposed food serving activity satisfies every condition in the Code and Commentary. This dissenting member sees the majority opinion as a continuation of pre-2008 restrictive rules that caused judges to become isolated from the community in which they live.
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