Wednesday, February 13, 2013
A recent opinion from the Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee:ISSUES
May a judge assigned to a dependency division permit groups or persons to donate items for children to play with while the children are in court?
ANSWER: Yes, as long as neither the judge nor the judge’s court personnel solicits the donations.
We opine that a judge assigned to a dependency division may permit groups or persons to donate items for children to play with while the children are in court. Allowing such donations likely would improve the administration of justice by aiding the judge’s ability to control the courtroom. See Fla. Code Jud. Conduct Canon 4B Commentary (“As a judicial officer and person specially learned in the law, a judge is in a unique position to contribute to the improvement of the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice, including, but not limited to . . . the improvement of justice in the areas of . . . juvenile dependency.”)
However, we opine that neither the judge nor the judge’s court personnel may solicit the donations. Code of Judicial Conduct Canon 4A states, in pertinent part, that a judge shall conduct all quasi-judicial activities so that they do not:
(1) cast reasonable doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially;
(2) undermine the judge’s independence, integrity or impartiality;
. . .
(6) appear to a reasonable person to be coercive.
Soliciting donations from groups or persons who appear before the judge may convey the impression that the judge will favor those who donate. Soliciting donations from groups or persons, regardless of whether those groups or persons appear before the judge, also may appear to be coercive to those who are not inclined to donate but who fear the judge’s disfavor if they do not donate.