On Thursday, April 11, 2024, the Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee issued Opinion Number 2024-05 regarding the responsibilities of a county judge serving on their county’s election canvassing board.

The opinion addressed whether a judge must recuse himself or herself from the board in the event their spouse is employed by an incumbent elected official facing reelection. Specifically, the judge in question’s spouse serves as general counsel for the incumbent county official. It was confirmed that the spouse’s employment would likely end if the challenger defeated the incumbent in the election.

The Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee considered Canon 3E(1) of the Code of Judicial Conduct, which mandates judges disqualify themselves from proceedings where their impartiality could reasonably be questioned. This includes cases where their spouse has an economic interest in the outcome. As the judge’s spouse’s employment relies on the incumbent’s reelection, an economic interest existed.

While the judge’s normal canvassing board duties would not directly impact election outcomes, the committee noted the board has powers like determining whether absentee or provisional ballots were properly cast, which could potentially influence a very close race. With any single decision capable of changing a result, the committee found the judge’s impartiality in matters concerning their spouse’s employer could reasonably be doubted.

As a result, the opinion concluded the county judge must recuse from participation in the canvassing board’s work relating to the specific election where the incumbent they oversee faces an opponent. However, the recusal would be limited only to that race, as the judge could still carry out their normal role for other contests not involving their spouse’s employer. Still, the judicial ethics panel emphasizes its rulings are advisory and not binding on disciplinary authorities.



Source: Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee