The Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee issued an opinion on November 13, 2023, addressing whether a judge may preside over criminal cases where the judge’s spouse serves as the Executive Director in the Office of the State Attorney.
The Committee was asked to review a situation where a judge currently presides over circuit and county criminal cases. The judge’s spouse has been offered the position of Executive Director in the local state attorney’s office. As Executive Director, the spouse would be responsible for administrative functions such as finance, human resources, information technology, and supervising non-attorney staff. However, the position would not involve directly supervising any assistant state attorneys appearing before the court.
In its analysis, the Committee examined Canons 2B and 3E(1) of the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct. Canon 2B states that a judge shall not allow family relationships to influence judicial conduct or judgment. Canon 3E(1) advises that a judge shall disqualify himself or herself if the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned.
The opinion discusses that a relative working in a state attorney or public defender office does not automatically require disqualification. Each situation must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Past opinions have found disqualification necessary if the judge’s spouse directly supervises attorneys appearing before the judge. However, the committee has also allowed a judge to preside over cases involving an office where the spouse works if no supervisory authority exists.
Taking all factors into account, the Committee determined the judge may preside over criminal cases with the described spouse’s employment. As Executive Director, the spouse would not directly supervise or be involved in prosecuting cases before the court beyond routine administrative duties. The opinion notes disqualification would be required if the spouse offers direct assistance on cases or circumstances arise questioning the judge’s impartiality.
Overall, the Judicial Ethics Committee ruled the judge may continue presiding over criminal dockets despite the spouse serving as Executive Director at the state attorney’s office, provided no direct supervisory or case involvement exists beyond general administration. The opinion provides guidance on weighing family affiliations and maintaining proper impartiality under the Code of Judicial Conduct.