Judges who return to practice should shelve their old title.
The committee approved proposed opinion A-09-01 at the Bar's Annual Convention in Orlando. The opinion says that former jurists using the title of judge or justice could lead the public into believing they have special influence in a court proceeding.
The committee was considering the issue at the request of the Supreme Court, which asked the Bar to look how former judges use their previous titles in communications.
"This is something that was a long time in coming," said committee Chair Renee Gorman, who worked for 23 years as a judicial assistant. She added that while the public should know about lawyers' former judicial experience, "the title is no longer the title of someone who has retired."
Committee member Natalie Jackson, who cast the only vote against the opinion, disagreed with the opinion's conclusion.
"I think it does not influence the public to think that you have influence over the court. I think it shows a different aspect of your emotional IQ. It would be like saying you are board certified, you have some different knowledge from most people," she said.
Former Supreme Court Justice Charles Wells attended the meeting and said he agreed that former judges should not in any circumstance be able to imply they have special infl uence over any court. But he also said service on the bench is a material fact that could be important to many people looking for a lawyer, and they should be allowed to communicate that.
He also noted that the state has a mandatory retirement age of 70--which he said he supports--for judges and justices. Wells, who left the high court in March and returned to private practice, added, "It is a matter of legal fact that the state made me retire and since the state made me retire, I think the state has an obligation not to regulate me in such a way that I cannot advise people of what I have been doing for the last 15 years. That is something that does need to be considered."
Also, Wells said, prohibiting lawyers from mentioning judicial service could deter highly talented lawyers with lucrative practices from serving on the bench if they later plan to return to private practice. Overall, though, he said he was satisfied with the proposed opinion.
The opinion, noting several Bar and ABA ethics opinions, concludes that, "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 opinion also said that "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.'"
The committee was considering the matter after the Bar received a letter from the Supreme Court requesting "that The Florida Bar study whether the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar should be amended to preclude retired judges from using the title 'judge' in letterheads, pleadings, advertising, business cards, etc., in connection with their practicing law. It has been brought to the Court's attention that the Bar has recently found the practice to be 'problematic' and advised a lawyer to remove the title from his law firm stationery....
"Although no rule precisely covers the subject, ethics opinions from The Florida Bar and the American Bar Association indicate that the use of the honorific title may create an unjustified expectation of results, suggesting that the lawyer can achieve results by means that violate the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar."
The court letter came after a recent grievance case, where a case was closed with a finding of no probable cause involving a former judge who used the title before his name, and followed his name with the notation (Ret.). The grievance committee did issue a letter of advisement, questioning whether the lawyer should have used the title, and the lawyer responded noting it is a common practice among former judges.
In lieu of a rule amendment, the matter was referred to the Professional Ethics Committee and to the Standing Committee on Advertising for its consideration of adopting an advertising opinion to give guidance on the matter.
The committee voted 4-1 to approve the proposed opinion and published it as an official notice in the July 15 News. If no comments are received, the opinion will become final. If comments are received, the committee will consider those at its September meeting.
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Publication:||Florida Bar News|
|Date:||Aug 1, 2009|
|Previous Article:||Legal groups honor Sen. Crist's work.|
|Next Article:||Curington wins Pepper Award.|