Wednesday, December 11, 2013
The Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee has given a qualified blessing to a judge awarding deserving persons a so-called "challenge coin" for service to the justice system.
...would be given at the judge’s discretion and only as a reward for hard work and dedication to the court or community. The coin would be produced at the judge’s own expense and would bear the judge’s name and judicial circuit, as well as the date of the judge’s investiture. The coin would also bear the words “fiat justitia,” a Latin phrase meaning “let justice be done.”
In reaching its conclusion, the Committee acknowledges that the use of challenge coins varies depending on the organization. Although such coins have been used for many years in the military context to reward behavior and enhance morale, they have also been used by some organizations as proof of membership or to allow admission. Despite this association with membership or admission to a private club or organization, the Committee believes it unlikely that a recipient of a challenge coin bearing the judge’s name could credibly use the coin to convey to others that they are in a special position to influence the judge.
Nevertheless, the judge should exercise caution so as not to run afoul of the Code. The Committee recommends that the judge be mindful of the Code when selecting individuals to commend. For example, the judge should consider whether the selection of certain individuals or a group of individuals for recognition might reasonably be considered inappropriate political activity prohibited by Canon 7, or presents issues of impartiality, lending the prestige of the judicial office, or allowing others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence the judge. See Fla. JEAC Op. 94-25 (several committee members suggested that it would be more appropriate to delete laudatory remarks concerning the lawyers in an article to be published, or simply refer to them as trial counsel).
In conclusion, in answering this question in the affirmative, the majority of the Committee advises the judge to avoid presenting challenge coins in a manner that may reasonably be perceived to be a violation of the Code. The Committee also recommends that the judge remain vigilant to ensure that recipients of the challenge coin are not using it in a manner that would reflect poorly on the judge or that would cause ethical concerns for the judge, and in the event such information comes to the judge’s attention, the judge should re-assess the appropriateness of continuing this activity.
A minority is concerned
A minority of the Committee is of the opinion that the inclusion of the judge’s name and investiture date would be perceived or recognized as self-promotion and be demeaning to the judicial office. The spirit of the Canons would be best served by the deletion of the name and investiture date from the coins. The minority, otherwise, agrees with the rest of this opinion.