The Florida Bar
A former judge who practices law and also serves as a corporate officer may not use the title "Judge" with his name on the corporation's stationery, nor should the corporation's employees refer to him as "Judge" in communications with third persons.
March 10, 1977
March 10, 1977
Note: Judicial conduct is governed by the Code of Judicial Conduct. The Judicial Ethics Committee issues opinions interpreting this Code.
CPR: DR 2-101
Opinions: 70-63, 73-27, 73-31
Vice Chairman Lehan stated the opinion of the committee:
A practicing lawyer had been a judge for a period of four months approximately nine years ago. He advises that he is commonly known in the community as "Judge .........." He engages in the practice of law and also separately in business as the president and chairman of the board of a company involved in financial matters and having regular dealings with the public. He asks:
(1) Whether his identification on the letterhead of the separate business may properly refer to him as "Judge .........."
(2) Whether he must forbid the employees of the separate business to use the title "Judge" in referring to him when addressing outside persons.
The Committee answers the first question in the negative and the second question in the affirmative.
Prior opinions of this Committee have established that use of the title "Judge" by a practicing lawyer who was formerly a judge may be improperly self-laudatory under DR 2-101. As to the first question presented by this inquiry, the prohibitions of DR 2-101 against a lawyer participating in the use of any form of public communication containing professionally self-laudatory statements and against a lawyer publicizing himself as a lawyer through any means of commercial publicity are not restricted to statements or publicity directly incident to, or referring directly to, his law practice, such as identification of a lawyer as "Judge" on his law office stationery. Those prohibitions would include participation in any form in such statements or publicity which would be construed as professionally self-laudatory. A lawyer should not do, or permit others over whom he has control to do, indirectly what he cannot do directly under the Code of Professional Responsibility. Accordingly, those pr ohibitions would preclude identification of a practicing lawyer as "Judge .........." on the letterhead of a business which deals with the public and of which he is chief executive officer. See Opinions 70-63 [since withdrawn], 73-27, and 73-31.
As to the second question, Opinions 73-27 and 70-63 [since withdrawn] state that a former judge engaged in the practice of law should instruct his office staff to refrain from affirmatively placing third persons in an embarrassing position of dealing with "Judge .........." Opinion 70-63 [since withdrawn] also states that he should not be required to forbid his staff or others from addressing him as "Judge .........." if the title has become attached to the particular man, rather than the judicial office.
The Committee adheres to those former opinions and feels that under the circumstances of this inquiry there should be no valid distinction between the employees in question being those employed by a separate business of which the practicing lawyer is chief executive officer (as in this inquiry) or those employed by the lawyer's law office (as in the circumstances surrounding the former opinions; the instant inquiry does not refer to employees of the inquiring attorney's law office). Accordingly, the employees of the separate business referred to in this inquiry should be instructed to avoid using the title "Judge .........." in referring to the lawyer when communicating with outside persons. But such employees may address the lawyer himself as "Judge" if the title has in general usage become attached to him as part of his commonly understood name.
In any case of doubt, for example, where such employees are addressing both outside persons and the lawyer at the same time in the presence of both, the doubt should be resolved against use of the term "judge" with reference to the lawyer in question.
An additional aspect of this inquiry with regard to question (2) above is that the use of the title "Judge .........." may reduce confusion with the identify of a relative and business associate of the same name. The Committee does not feel that the possibility of such confusion would justify departing from the foregoing opinion of the Committee as to that question, especially in written correspondence and in answering the telephone. However, in specific cases of such confusion the Committee recognizes that it may be necessary to use "Judge .........." as a method of correcting the confusion.