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May a judge address a group consisting solely of prosecutors?

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A judge may speak to an association of state prosecutors regarding how to address issues that arise when dealing with a specific type of litigant, according to the Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee.

Opinion number 2023-06 stems from an inquiry made by a judge whose been invited to speak to an out-of-jurisdiction association of state prosecutors on a topic that concerns a very specific class of litigants and how judges can deal with issues that arise when they encounter these litigants in court.

While the inquiring judge has lectured on this topic to judges across the country, the judge was concerned the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct prohibits judges addressing a group consisting solely of prosecutors.

The JEAC’s discussion on the inquiry centered around Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 4B, which states that judges are explicitly “encouraged to speak, write, lecture, teach and participate in other quasi-judicial activities concerning the law, the legal system, the administration of justice.”

In the opinion, JEAC states, “so long as the judge complies with Canon 2A (“A judge shall respect and comply with the law and shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary”), the Code does not prohibit a judge from teaching a homogenous group about the law.”

However, the JEAC referenced JEAC Op. 2006-30 and stressed: “The inquiring judge [must] be careful not to comment on pending cases, not to answer hypothetical questions in a way that appears to commit to a particular position, and not to make any other remarks that could lead to disqualification or be construed as an indication as to how the judge would rule in a particular case.”

Opinion 2023-06 also outlined a list of factors provided by JEAC Op. 2019-02 for judges to consider when deciding whether to engage in an extrajudicial or quasi-judicial activity with or without compensation.

If the answer to any one of the following eight question is “yes,” the advisory group recommends judge decline to engage in the activity:

  • Whether the activity will detract from full-time duties;
  • Whether the activity will call into question the judge’s impartiality, either because of comments reflecting on a pending matter or comments construed as legal advice;
  • Whether the activity will appear to trade on judicial office for the judge’s personal advantage;
  • Whether the activity will appear to place the judge in a position to wield or succumb to undue influence in judicial matters;
  • Whether the activity will lend the prestige of judicial office to the gain of another with whom the judge is involved or from whom the judge is receiving compensation;
  • Whether the activity will create any other conflict of interest for the judge;
  • Whether the activity will cause an entanglement with an entity or enterprise that appears frequently before the court; and
  • Whether the activity will lack dignity or demean judicial office in any way.

The JEAC said that so long as the inquiring judge complies with these guidelines, then it sees no reason why he cannot speak to a prosecutor’s association.

The Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee is charged with rendering advisory opinions to judges and judicial candidates on the application of the Code of Judicial Conduct to their circumstances. While judges and candidates may cite the opinion as evidence of good faith, the opinions are not binding on the Judicial Qualifications Commission.

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