On Wednesday, June 26, 2024, The Florida Bar reported that the Florida Supreme Court issued a ruling regarding a campaign voicemail sent by St. Johns County Judge Casey Woolsey during her 2022 re-election bid.

The case stemmed from a complaint filed with the Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) over Judge Woolsey’s campaign activities. Previously, the JQC and Judge Woolsey had agreed in a stipulation that a social media post promoting her campaign was misleading because it did not disclose that $50,000 of the $100,000 raised came from a loan she made to herself. Both parties agreed this violated rules against misrepresenting facts.

However, the JQC additionally argued that a campaign voicemail Judge Woolsey recorded violated judicial conduct rules prohibiting inappropriate political activity. In the voicemail, Woolsey introduced herself as a candidate for county judge and described herself as a “conservative” before providing her campaign website information. The JQC believed this reference to her political ideology inserted partisan politics into a nonpartisan race, given that most voters and candidates in St. Johns County typically affiliate with the Republican Party.

In its ruling, the Supreme Court disagreed with the JQC’s view that describing oneself as “conservative” amounted to inappropriate partisan political speech. The court noted that the term “conservative” has diverse interpretations and does not inherently signal bias for or against any issue or party. The justices also noted candidates have the right to discuss their philosophical beliefs, as established in a previous 2003 case.

While approving the stipulation regarding the misleading social media post, the Supreme Court rejected the JQC’s assertion about the voicemail. The unanimous decision determined Judge Woolsey’s statement did not violate judicial conduct rules and was within her rights as a candidate. As part of the ruling, the court issued a public reprimand of Judge Woolsey solely related to the misleading campaign finance disclosure.

 

 

Source: The Florida Bar