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The Florida Bar
www.floridabar.org
FLORIDA BAR STANDING COMMITTEE ON ADVERTISING
OPINION A-09-1
(June 25, 2009)

A retired judge may not use the term “Judge” as a title on letterhead, business cards or in advertising regardless of whether the title is modified by “former” or “retired” while actively engaged in the practice of law after leaving the bench, but may accurately indicate that he or she is a “retired judge” or “former judge.”

RPC: 4-7.2(c)(1), 4-8.4(e)
Opinions: 73-27, 73-31, 75-34, ABA Formal Opinion 95-391

The Supreme Court of Florida has asked The Florida Bar to review the issue of use of the title “Judge” by retired judges in the practice of law. It has come to the Court’s attention that some attorneys who are retired judges and who are engaged in the active practice of law use the term “Judge Jane Doe (Ret.)” or otherwise identify themselves as “Judge (Ret)” on letterhead, business cards, and advertisements.

Although there are Florida ethics opinions written on the issue of use of the term “judge” by a former judge who is actively engaged in the practice of law, those opinions were written before the current lawyer advertising rules and before the creation of the Standing Committee on Advertising. For example, Florida Ethics Opinion 73-27 concludes that a lawyer who is a former municipal judge may not permit the lawyer’s telephone answering service to answer “Judge X’s office.” Similarly, Florida Ethics Opinion 73-31 determined that a former judge who is actively practicing law may not use a nameplate using “Judge X” on the lawyer’s door or desk. Florida Ethics Opinion 75-34 states that a former judge who practices law and serves as a corporate officer may not use “Judge X” on corporate stationary or let corporate employees refer to the lawyer as “Judge” when communicating with third persons.

The American Bar Association has taken a similar position, indicating that former judges should not use the titles of either “Judge” or “The Honorable” while engaged in the practice of law, including answering the telephone “Judge X’s Office,” having “Judge X” on a nameplate, or using “Judge X.” See ABA Formal Opinion 95-391 (1995). The ABA opinion cites concerns that such references are misleading, and may “exaggerate the influence the lawyer may be able to wield.”

The Standing Committee on Advertising agrees with the Florida and ABA ethics opinions. Florida Bar rules prohibit lawyers from making false, misleading, or deceptive communications about their services, whether they are misleading by omission or commission. Rule 4-7.2(c)(1), Rules Regulating The Florida Bar. Additionally, a lawyer may not “state or imply an ability to influence improperly a government agency or official or to achieve results by means that violate the Rules of Professional Conduct or other law.” Rule 4-8.4(e), Rules Regulating The Florida Bar. The Committee is of the opinion that lawyers should not use the term “Judge” preceding their names, regardless of whether a modifier such as “former” or “retired” is used, when they are actively engaged in the practice of law after leaving the bench. Such a use is misleading, as the person is no longer a judge, and it may lead the public to believe that the person has an ability to exert improper influence in the judicial system. The Committee therefore finds it improper to use the term as a title, or to use the term in any way that states or implies that the former judge or justice has special influence. On the other hand, the Committee believes that lawyers may properly provide accurate and truthful information to the public about their prior judicial experience. For example, a former judge may include in advertisements an accurate and truthful statement that he or she is a “retired circuit judge,” “former county judge” or “former general magistrate.”

[Revised: 08-24-2011]