On November 29, the Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee issued an opinion clarifying when judges can attend community events like softball games involving law enforcement. The committee gave guidance about attending fundraising events as well.
The opinion addressed an inquiry from a judge presiding over criminal cases who wanted to attend a softball game between the county sheriff’s office and the police department. The proceeds from the game would be split between the two teams. The committee found the judge’s attendance at the game would be allowed if it is not promoted or advertised in a way that draws attention to the judge. However, at the event the judge must act in a way that maintains public trust in the integrity of the judiciary.
More broadly, the opinion also provided guidance about judges attending fundraisers, vigils, or fallen officer ceremonies. Even if an event like the softball game was a fundraiser, the committee said judges could still attend as long as they do not personally participate in soliciting donations or other fundraising activities, citing a 1998 advisory opinion.
The committee cautioned judges to avoid commenting on pending cases or giving advice that could lead to them needing to recuse from a case. The panel also listed eight factors from a 2019 opinion for judges to consider to determine if an extrajudicial activity could be perceived as detracting from judicial duties or impartiality, using the position to gain advantage, or lack dignity.
While not binding, judges and candidates can cite the Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee’s opinions to demonstrate they acted in good faith. The panel provides guidance to judges and judicial candidates on applying the state’s Code of Judicial Conduct. The opinions aim to help the judiciary maintain the highest ethical standards and trust in the court system.
Source: The Florida Bar