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November 15, 2013
Amendment would allow joint campaigns in some merit retention elections

The Florida Supreme Court, on its own motion, is considering amending Canon 7 of the Code of Judicial Conduct to expressly authorize candidates facing active opposition in a merit retention election for the same judicial office to conduct a joint campaign, to the extent not otherwise prohibited by Florida law. The court is concerned that, without the amendments, certain Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee opinions and opinions from the Court could lead to the conclusion that such joint campaigning is prohibited under the Canon 7A(1)(B) prohibition on a candidate for judicial office publicly endorsing another candidate for public office. See e.g. Fla. JEAC Op. 2012-19 (judicial candidate must not appear to run as part of a slate); Fla. JEAC Op. 2011-20 (judicial candidates running in different races may travel together to speaking events, as long as candidates do not travel together so frequently that it creates the impression that they are working together or are endorsing each other); Fla. JEAC Op. 2004-29 (judicial candidates running for different judicial seats who have same campaign consultant may not mail candidates’ campaign brochures in one envelope with disclaimer that the candidates are not endorsing each other because joint mailing may give impression the candidates are working together and endorse each other); In re Kay, 508 So. 2d 329 (Fla. 1987) (judge publicly reprimanded for violating various Canons and section 105.071, Florida Statutes (1985), by joining with two other judicial candidates in promoting and financing the mailing of sample ballots that, among other things, gave the appearance that each candidate endorsed the other); In re Pratt, 508 So. 2d 8 (Fla. 1987) (same). The court also is concerned that, if Canon 7 were so construed, the prohibition on joint campaigning by merit retention candidates for the same judicial office who are facing opposition would not serve a compelling interest. If adopted, the amendments under consideration would apply only to candidates in a merit retention election for the same judicial office. The court invites all interested persons to comment on the amendments under consideration, which are reproduced in full below, as well as online at The court specifically seeks comments from the Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee and the Conference of District Court of Appeal Judges. All comments must be filed with the Court on or before December 16, 2013. If filed by an attorney in good standing with The Florida Bar, the comment must be electronically filed via the Portal in accordance with In re: Electronic Filing in the Supreme Court of Florida via the Florida Courts E-Filing Portal, Fla. Admin. Order No. AOSC13-7 (Feb 18, 2013). If filed by a non-lawyer or a lawyer not licensed to practice in Florida, the comment must be electronically filed via e-mail in accordance with In re Mandatory Submission of Electronic Copies of Documents, Fla. Admin. Order No. AOSC04-84 (Sept. 13, 2004). Electronically filed documents must be submitted in Microsoft Word 97 or higher. Any person unable to submit a comment electronically must mail or hand-deliver the originally signed comment to the Florida Supreme Court, Office of the Clerk, 500 South Duval Street, Tallahassee 32399-1927; no additional copies are required or will be accepted.




Canon 7. A Judge or Candidate for Judicial Office Shall Refrain From Inappropriate Political Activity

A. All judges and Candidates.

(1) Except as authorized in Sections 7B(2), 7C(2) and 7C(3), a judge or a candidate for election or appointment to judicial office shall not:

(a) act as a leader or hold an office in a political organization;

(b) publicly endorse or publicly oppose another candidate for public office;

(c) make speeches on behalf of a political organization;

(d) attend political party functions; or

(e) solicit funds for, pay an assessment to or make a contribution to a political organization or candidate, or purchase tickets for political party dinners or other functions.

(2) - (3) [No Change]

B. [No Change]

C. Judges and Candidates Subject to Public Election.

(1) A candidate, including an incumbent judge, for a judicial office that is filled by public election between competing candidates shall not personally solicit campaign funds, or solicit attorneys for publicly stated support, but may establish committees of responsible persons to secure and manage the expenditure of funds for the candidate’s campaign and to obtain public statements of support for his or her candidacy. Such committees are not prohibited from soliciting campaign contributions and public support from any person or corporation authorized by law. A candidate shall not use or permit the use of campaign contributions for the private benefit of the candidate or members of the candidate’s family.

(2) A candidate for merit retention in office may conduct only limited campaign activities until such time as the judge certifies that the judge’s candidacy has drawn active opposition. Limited campaign activities shall only include the conduct authorized by subsection C(1), interviews with reporters and editors of the print, audio and visual media, and appearances and speaking engagements before public gatherings and organizations. Upon mailing a certificate in writing to the Secretary of State, Division of Elections, with a copy to the Judicial Qualifications Commission, that the judge’s candidacy has drawn active opposition, and specifying the nature thereof, a judge may thereafter campaign in any manner authorized by law, subject to the restrictions of subsection A(3). This includes candidates facing active opposition in a merit retention election for the same judicial office campaigning together and conducting a joint campaign designed to educate the public on merit retention and each candidate’s views as to why he or she should be retained in office, to the extent not otherwise prohibited by Florida law.

(3) A judicial candidate involved in an election or re-election, or a merit retention candidate who has certified that he or she has active opposition, may attend a political party function to speak in behalf of his or her candidacy or on a matter that relates to the law, the improvement of the legal system, or the administration of justice. The function must not be a fund raiser, and the invitation to speak must also include the other candidates, if any, for that office. The candidate should refrain from commenting on the candidate’s affiliation with any political party or other candidate, and should avoid expressing a position on any political issue. A judicial candidate attending a political party function must avoid conduct that suggests or appears to suggest support of or opposition to a political party, a political issue, or another candidate. Conduct limited to that described above does not constitute participation in a partisan political party activity.

D. – F. [No Change]
Canon 7A(1). A judge or candidate for judicial office retains the right to participate in the political process as a voter.

Where false information concerning a judicial candidate is made public, a judge or another judicial candidate having knowledge of the facts is not prohibited by Section 7A(1) from making the facts public.

Section 7A(1)(a) does not prohibit a candidate for elective judicial office from retaining during candidacy a public office such as county prosecutor, which is not “an office in a political organization.”

Section 7A(1)(b) does not prohibit a judge or judicial candidate from privately expressing his or her views on judicial candidates or other candidates for public office.

A candidate does not publicly endorse another candidate for public office by having that candidate’s name on the same ticket.

Section 7A(1)(b) prohibits judges and judicial candidates from publicly endorsing or opposing candidates for public office to prevent them from abusing the prestige of judicial office to advance the interests of others. Section 7C(3) authorizes candidates facing active opposition in a merit retention election for the same judicial office to campaign together and conduct a joint campaign designed to educate the public on merit retention and each candidate’s views as to why he or she should be retained in office, to the extent not otherwise prohibited by Florida law. Joint campaigning by merit retention candidates, as authorized under Section 7C(3), is not a prohibited public endorsement of another candidate under Section 7A(1)(b).

Canon 7A(3)(b). Although a judicial candidate must encourage members of his or her family to adhere to the same standards of political conduct in support of the candidate that apply to the candidate, family members are free to participate in other political activity.

Canon 7A(3)(e). Section 7A(3)(e) prohibits a candidate for judicial office from making statements that commit the candidate regarding cases, controversies or issues likely to come before the court. As a corollary, a candidate should emphasize in any public statement the candidate’s duty to uphold the law regardless of his or her personal views. Section 7A(3)(e) does not prohibit a candidate from making pledges or promises respecting improvements in court administration. Nor does this Section prohibit an incumbent judge from making private statements to other judges or court personnel in the performance of judicial duties. This Section applies to any statement made in the process of securing judicial office, such as statements to commissions charged with judicial selection and tenure and legislative bodies confirming appointment.

Canon 7B(2). Section 7B(2) provides a limited exception to the restrictions imposed by Sections 7A(1) and 7D. Under Section 7B(2), candidates seeking reappointment to the same judicial office or appointment to another judicial office or other governmental office may apply for the appointment and seek appropriate support.

Although under Section 7B(2) non-judge candidates seeking appointment to judicial office are permitted during candidacy to retain office in a political organization, attend political gatherings and pay ordinary dues and assessments, they remain subject to other provisions of this Code during candidacy. See Sections 7B(1), 7B(2)(a), 7E and Application Section.

Canon 7C. The term “limited campaign activities” is not intended to permit the use of common forms of campaign advertisement which include, but are not limited to, billboards, bumperstickers, media commercials, newspaper advertisements, signs, etc. Informational brochures about the merit retention system, the law, the legal system or the administration of justice, and neutral, factual biographical sketches of the candidates do not violate this provision.

Active opposition is difficult to define but is intended to include any form of organized public opposition or an unfavorable vote on a bar poll. Any political activity engaged in by members of a judge’s family should be conducted in the name of the individual family member, entirely independent of the judge and without reference to the judge or to the judge’s office.

Canon 7D. Neither Section 7D nor any other section of the Code prohibits a judge in the exercise of administrative functions from engaging in planning and other official activities with members of the executive and legislative branches of government. With respect to a judge’s activity on behalf of measures to improve the law, the legal system and the administration of justice, see Commentary to Section 4B and Section 4C and its Commentary.

[Revised: 12-31-2016]