Monday, January 6, 2014
The Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee welcomes the New Year with this opinion
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.
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."
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.