Tuesday, July 17, 2012
A recent opinion of the Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee:
Whether a judge may, with the chief judge’s approval, appear and speak in support of a specific software funding request to the county commission, which provides funding for judicial technology and software in the county where the judge sits.
Whether a judge may speak individually to county commissioners in a private setting regarding the judge’s support of a specific software funding request being considered by the county commission, which provides funding for judicial technology and software in the county where the judge sits.
ANSWER: Yes, if such conduct is not prohibited by any provision of law.
As to the second issue:
It is unclear from this inquiry whether the judge intends to support or endorse a particular software provider or software product or intends simply to speak in support of the judiciary’s need for a specific type of software that may be purchased from multiple vendors. A majority of the Committee would advise the judge not to support or endorse a particular software provider or software product in order to avoid violating Canon 2B’s prohibition against lending the prestige of the judicial office to advance the private interests of another. Nevertheless, the Committee believes a judge is permitted to address, with the entity responsible for funding judicial software needs, the pros and cons of disparate software providers and software products, based upon the judge’s experience and expertise regarding those needs. To provide the funding entity with information to assist it with its budgetary responsibilities, the judge is permitted to discuss and express an opinion on why one provider or one product is more conducive to the judiciary’s needs than another. Of course, this is dependent upon the judge’s motivation. That is, if the judge is solely motivated by a desire to act in the best interests of the judiciary, then such discussions are permissible. But, if the judge is in any way motivated by a desire to lend the prestige of the judge’s office to advance the private interests of a particular vendor, then such discussions are prohibited.