October 6, 2011
A recent opinion from Florida's Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee:
May a judge seeking re-election in 2014 be a hole sponsor at a charity golf tournament hosted by the young lawyers section of the local bar association if the proceeds raised at the event will benefit various non-law related projects?
The Young Lawyers Section (YLS) of the Inquiring Judge’s local county bar association hosts a charity golf tournament each year. The YLS raises funds from the golf tournament through player entrance fees and hole sponsorships. Hole sponsors will have their company logo displayed on all promotional materials, the hole sign and the electronic screen on the golf cart; and will be given a table and chairs at the designated sponsored hole. According to the flyer and registration form provided by the Inquiring Judge, all proceeds of the YLS charity golf tournament and a raffle held at the event will be applied to fund various YLS charitable projects. Examples of the charitable projects include college scholarships; providing school supplies; providing homebound seniors with meals; providing opportunities for children who are the subject of abuse, abandonment and neglect to play games with members of YLS; and sponsoring a team in a cancer fundraising event.
The Inquiring Judge, who will be seeking re-election in 2014, inquires whether a judge is allowed to expend campaign contributions to be a hole sponsor at the golf tournament, appear at the golf hole and display campaign literature/logo. In the Inquiring Judge’s assessment, only paid attendees would know about the judge’s hole sponsorship, and if necessary, the judge would advise the chairperson not to use the judge’s name or title to raise funds.
A minority of five members of the Committee are of the opinion that the contemplated conduct is not permitted by either Canon 4 or Canon 5. The minority agrees with the majority that Canon 4 does not permit the judge to be a hole sponsor at the YLS tournament. As the majority observes, the Supreme Court’s amendments to Canons 4 and 5 created “significant exceptions to the prior prohibition on judges participating in fund-raising activities on behalf of a specific category of organizations.” It is important to note, however, that the exceptions the Court created are quite specific and limited. As the Supreme Court stated regarding Canon 4, “This change is intended to allow judges to participate in a law-related organization’s fund-raiser only where the particular event serves a law-related purpose and the funds raised will be used for a law-related purpose.” In re Amendments to the Code of Judicial Conduct - Limitations on Judges’ Participation in Fundraising Activities, 983 So. 2d 550, 552 (Fla. 2008) (emphasis supplied).
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