Thursday, October 31, 2013
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.