Thursday, October 31, 2013

Judge Cannot Join Political Action Committee

The Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee has opined that a judge may not be a member of SUNPAC, described in the opinion as a political action committee that promotes stong ties between the United States and Israel.

The committee split evenly on the question whether the judge may attend SUNPAC events:

The  Committee is evenly divided in resolving the second inquiry. One half is of the  opinion that, due to the SUNPAC’s stated political purpose, the judge would be  prohibited from attending any of its functions. To do so would give the appearance  that the judge is supporting SUNPAC’s political positions and candidates it  endorses. Therefore, the judge would be lending the prestige of judicial office  to SUNPAC’s political positions and candidates it endorses, in violation of  Canons 2B and 7. 

The  other half is of the opinion that, although SUNPAC is a political organization,  it is not a political party. Therefore, mere attendance at an event may be  permissible under very limited circumstances. The judge could attend only if  the event was not a political party function (Canon 7A(1)(d)), the judge does  not pay a fee to attend (Canon 7A(1)(e)), the judge’s attendance cannot be  construed to be a public endorsement of a candidate (Canon 7A(1)(b), and the  judge does not actively engage in any political activity (Canon 7D).

 Although we cannot  prejudge a particular event, in making the determination of whether the event  is appropriate to attend, the judge should take into account not only subject  of the program but also the advocacy of the organization.  The more zealous, and the more one-sided the  advocacy of the organization, the more weight the judge should give that factor  in deciding whether to attend or not.  If  an organization had historically taken a very consistent, unwavering position on  a highly political issue, that would create the rebuttable presumption that an  event they were sponsoring on that issue was not informative but instead was an  exercise in advocacy.   That presumption  could be rebutted by advance publicity concerning the event, the bent of the  speakers, the location of the event and the totality of circumstances  surrounding the event.

(Mike Frisch)

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