Monday, January 6, 2014

The Art Of Judging

The Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee welcomes the New Year with this opinion

ISSUE

Whether the inquiring judge may display art in  the judge's judicial chambers in connection with a program under which the  local government acquires art for the purpose of display in public buildings,  where the judge does not conduct hearings in the chambers, but in which the  judge regularly is visited  by other  judges, law clerks, interns, clerks, court staff, government officials, and  private guests.

ANSWER: Yes.

FACTS

 

The local government in a county in which the inquiring judge maintains  judicial chambers has a public, governmental art-in-public- places program  under which it acquires art for the purpose of display in public buildings.  Government officials advised the inquiring judge that they consider the judge's  chambers as qualifying for the program. While not an area open to the general  public, in that the inquiring judge does not conduct hearings there, the  judge's judicial chambers is a government office regularly visited by other  judges, law clerks, interns, clerks, court staff, government officials, and  private guests.

The local government appears as a  litigant in the court over which the inquiring judge presides. The inquiring  judge asks whether the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct "would prohibit or  disfavor art from this program being placed in [the judge's]  chambers." 

Reasoning

Under  the facts of this case noted above, the Committee does not perceive the judge’s  decision to permit the use of the judge’s chambers for the display of art  acquired by the local government for display in public buildings pursuant to  its art-in-public-places program as conduct which would require the judge’s  disqualification in cases involving the local government as a participant or  implicating the local government’s interests. That is, such conduct would not create  in reasonable minds, with knowledge of all the relevant circumstances that a  reasonable inquiry would disclose, a perception that the judge's ability to preside  in such cases with integrity and impartiality is impaired.   Further  the Committee does not perceive the judge’s participation in this public, local  government program to be information that the parties or their lawyers might  consider relevant to the question of disqualification. Thus, disclosure would  not be required, even when the local government is a participant or interested in  a case before the judge.  

The  Committee finds no distinction between the placement of the art object(s) in  the judge’s chambers or in a courtroom in the courthouse in which the judge  sits. Neither is owned by the judge, and either may be subject to viewing by  members of the public under appropriate circumstances.

(Mike Frisch)

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