The Florida Bar
A former justice or judge may indicate his former judicial position under his signature on letters written to attorneys and other professionals regarding matters unrelated to the practice of law.
(July 1, 1987)
(July 1, 1987)
Note: Judicial conduct is governed by the Code of Judicial Conduct. The Judicial Ethics Committee issues opinions interpreting this Code.
RPC: 4-7.1, 4-7.1(b)
CPR: DR 2-101, DR 2-101(C)(6)
Opinions: 70-63, 73-27, 73-31, 75-34; ABA Informal 1006
The inquiring attorney asks whether it is ethically permissible for a former chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court to indicate his former judicial position below his signature on letters written to attorneys and other professionals regarding a matter unrelated to the practice of law. The letters would be written on stationery of the former justice's law firm.
This Committee has considered it improper for a former judge to identify himself as "Judge X" in his private law practice. Opinions 73-31, 73-27, 70-63 [since withdrawn]. The ABA Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility declared that it was improper for a former judge to sign pleadings as "Judge X." This was considered a form of self-laudation in violation of DR 2-101, Code of Professional Responsibility. ABA Informal Opinion 1006. Similarly, this Committee concluded that a former judge's identification of himself as "Judge X" on the letterhead of a nonlegal business he was connected with was self-laudation in violation
of DR 2-101. Opinion 75-34.
As mentioned above, DR 2-101(C)(6) prohibited attorneys from using self-laudatory statements in their communications. However, the Rules of Professional Conduct (Chapter 4, Rules Regulating The Florida Bar), which superseded the Code effective January 1, 1987, contain no such express prohibition. Rather, Rule 4-7.1 prohibits an attorney's use of false or misleading communications. Paragraph (b) of this rule provides that a communication is false or misleading if it is likely to create an unjustified expectation about results the attorney can achieve or implies that the attorney can achieve results by unethical or illegal means.
In the situation presented, the statement below the former justice's name indicating the judicial position formerly held by him is not false. Nor could the statement be considered misleading under 4-7.1(b); clearly, the "results" referred to are results obtained in legal matters. The matters addressed in the letter in question would be unrelated to the former justice's law practice.
Accordingly, it would not be ethically improper for the former justice to identify himself as a former chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court below his signature on letters to attorneys and other professionals regarding matters unrelated to the practice of law.
A different issue is presented with respect to a former judge identifying himself as such in letters related to his law practice.
The writer's former judicial office is not relevant to legal matters handled by him in his private law practice, and, therefore, there is no proper reason why his former position should be mentioned in letters connected with such matters. Indeed, it would not be unreasonable to assume that one reason for wishing to include the writer's former judicial position would be to create the kind of undesirable expectations referred to in Rule 4-7.1(b).
Furthermore, in communications with an opposing party there would appear to be no reason for mention of the writer's former judicial position except perhaps to intimidate the recipient. Florida Opinions 70-63 [since withdrawn] and 73-27 indicate that it would be improper for a former judge to use or permit use of his past judicial position or title for such a purpose.
Consequently, it would not be proper for a former judge to identify himself as such below his name on letters related to the practice of law.