Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Model Judge

A recent opinion from the Florida's Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee

Whether a Judge, who is a member of a  regional Association for Women Lawyers, may participate as a model as a part of  an event described as a “cocktail party and fashion show,” where the event’s  proceeds “primarily benefit…a free childcare facility located inside  the…courthouse” but also help fund the association’s “assistance to deserving  law students in need of financial support.”

ANSWER: Yes.

FACTS

The  inquiring judge is a member of a regional Association for Women Lawyers (“the  Association”) in the judge’s circuit. The Association is presenting its “annual  spring cocktail party and fashion show.” In addition to a spring fashion runway  show produced by a local department store, the event will offer to attendees  “exclusive storewide discounts, door prizes, a silent auction, and special VIP  offerings.” According to the Association’s event chair, “This stylish event  supports the growth of [the area’s] professional women and women-owned  businesses, while raising money for two important causes: [a free childcare  facility located inside the courthouse] and [the Association’s] Bar Scholarship  [which provides assistance to deserving law students in need of financial  support].” The Association’s solicitation letter for event sponsors states in  part, “As a sponsor, you will have the unique opportunity to showcase your  business to the stars of [the local area’s] legal, business and executive  communities.”

The event chair explains that the free  childcare facility serves children who are brought to court by their caregivers  when the caregivers have no safe place to leave them during the caregivers’  required attendance in court. She states it “spares these children from  witnessing adult interactions that could be painful or frightening for them.” The  childcare program in the courthouse therefore provides a supervised drop-in  childcare facility for litigants, jurors and witnesses when childcare issues  might otherwise create an obstacle for court participants to attend court  proceedings. The facility “also provides their caregivers with referrals to  resources like full-time child care or career counseling so they can return to  work, financial assistance for crisis situations, counseling for children who  have experienced trauma, and even beds for their homes.”

The inquiring judge asks whether a judge is  permitted to participate in the Association’s fundraising event by modeling  some of the fashions in the spring fashion show.

DISCUSSION

Canon 2B provides, “A judge shall not lend the prestige of judicial  office to advance the private interests of the judge or others….”  The Commentary to Canon 2B states in part:

Respect for the judicial office  facilitates the orderly conduct of legitimate judicial functions. Judges should  distinguish between proper and improper use of the prestige of office in all of  their activities. A judge must avoid lending the prestige of judicial office  for the advancement of the private interests of others.

In 2008, the Florida Supreme Court in In  re Amendments to the Code of Judicial Conduct-Limitations on Judges’  Participation in Fundraising Activities, 983 So. 2d 550 (Fla. 2008)  amended Canons 4 and 5 of the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct to allow for  judicial participation in fundraising in the context of “quasi-judicial  activities” and “extrajudicial activities” concerning the law, the legal  system, and the administration of justice. Canon 4D(2) was amended to permit a  judge to participate in a fundraising event if the event met two criteria: (1)  the event is sponsored by an organization or governmental entity that is  devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system, the judicial branch or  the administration of justice, and (2) the event concerns the law, the legal  system, or the administration of justice and the funds raised will be used for  a law-related purpose. If these two criteria are met, then a judge may “speak  at, receive an award or other recognition at, be featured on the program of and  permit the judge’s title to be used in conjunction with [a fundraising]  event….” Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 4D(2)(b).  But even if these  criteria are met, Canon 4D(2)(a) prohibits judges from personally or directly  participating in the solicitation of funds from anyone except from other judges  over whom the judge does not exercise supervisory or appellate authority.

Canon 4 states, “A Judge Is  Encouraged to Engage in Activities to Improve the Law, the Legal System, and  the Administration of Justice.” Canon 4A provides, in pertinent part:

A.  A judge  shall conduct all of the judge’s quasi-judicial activities so that they do not:     *        *        *     (2)  undermine  the judge’s independence, integrity, or impartiality; [or]     (3)  demean the judicial office;

The Commentary to Canon 4B states, “This canon was clarified in order to  encourage judges to engage in activities to improve the law, the legal system,  and the administration of justice.”  Canon  4D(2)(b), dealing with a judge’s participation in an organization devoted to the improvement of the law, the  legal system, the judicial branch, or the administration of justice, now provides:

(2) A judge as  an officer, director, trustee or non-legal advisor, or as a member or  otherwise:     *        *        * (b)  may appear or speak at, receive an award or other  recognition at, be featured on the program of, and permit the judge’s  title to be used in conjunction with an event of such an organization or  entity, but if the event serves a fund-raising purpose, the judge may  participate only if the event concerns the law, the legal system, or the  administration of justice and the funds raised will be used for a law related  purpose(s);

    (Emphasis  supplied.)

The  majority opinion in In Re Amendments, supra, observed that the amendment to Canon 4 “is intended to allow  judges to participate in a law-related organization’s fundraiser only where the  particular event serves a law-related purpose and the funds raised will be used  for a law-related purpose.” 983 So. 2d, at 552.  The opinion placed the  responsibility on a judge who wants to participate in a fundraising event to  determine if the event meets the criteria of Canon 4D(2). Id.   Justice Peggy Quince, in her dissent cautioned that a judge who wants to  participate in a fundraising event permitted by Canon 4D(2) “will have to make  a  judgment call on whether or not a particular organization or event  falls within the ambit of the amendment.”  In re Amendments to the Code  of Judicial Conduct-Limitations on Judges’ Participation in Fundraising  Activities, 983 So. 2d 550, 553 (Fla. 2008) (Quince, J.,  dissenting).

The Committee is of the opinion that the  Association is an organization devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal  system, the judicial branch, or the administration of justice. The courthouse  childcare program improves the administration of justice by decreasing  continuances due to childcare issues and by making the courts more accessible  to parents who would not otherwise be able to attend required court proceedings  because of a lack of childcare options. The  Committee further believes the free childcare program in the courthouse  contributes to the administration of justice by helping childcare providers to  honor their required court appearances and by providing a safe and convenient  childcare service for their children during such appearances.

Thus, the Committee advises the inquiring  judge, who is a member of a regional Association for Women Lawyers, that the  judge may participate as a model as a part of an event described as a “cocktail  party and fashion show,” where the event’s proceeds “primarily benefit…a free  childcare facility located inside the…courthouse” but also help fund the  association’s “assistance to deserving law students in need of financial  support.” Cf., Fla. JEAC OP. 11-06 (Judge  may not speak and be featured on a program and permit the Judge’s title to be  used for a fundraiser for a program which provides supervised childcare to  parents and guardians who are attending court-related matters, because, although  the program is law-related, it is under the umbrella of the YWCA, an  organization that is not solely devoted to the law, the legal system, or the  administration of justice.)

(Mike Frisch)

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