On Monday, March 11, 2024, the Florida Supreme Court Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee issued Opinion 2024-2 regarding judicial disqualification and disclosure requirements.

The opinion addressed several questions from an inquiring judge facing opposition in the upcoming election. The judge serves as the sole county judge in a rural area, handling all county court matters for the region. The judge’s opponent works for the local Office of the Public Defender, though not in the judge’s division, and occasionally will cover the judge’s docket.

The Committee found the judge would not need to automatically disqualify himself from all cases involving the Public Defender’s office, since the opponent is not regularly assigned to the judge’s cases. There is also no requirement for the judge to disclose on each Public Defender case record that the opponent is challenging him in the election.

Similarly, if a colleague of the opponent, who works in a supervisory role at the Public Defender’s office and occasionally appears before the judge, is actively supporting the campaign, automatic disqualification is not needed. The Committee advised seeking an administrative solution to avoid directly presiding over cases involving either the opponent or their colleague.

The opinion noted automatic disqualification would be required if an opponent’s relative within the third degree, who also serves as the campaign treasurer, regularly appears as a witness before the judge. However, the judge is the only one serving the region. Requiring recusal could create hardship for other courts, lawyers, litigants, and witnesses. The Committee determined necessity may allow the judge to disclose the conflict but not recuse, to avoid undue prejudice to all involved parties.

In its analysis, the Committee considered judicial ethics Canons requiring impartiality and prohibiting relationships from influencing conduct or judgment. It also referenced previous opinions on dealing with similar political opponent conflicts administratively. The opinion provides guidance for inquiring judges facing election challenges on balancing impartiality with the hardship caused by automatic blanket recusal requirements.

 

 

Source: Florida Supreme Court Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee