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Judicial ethics panel deals with reporting gifts from relatives.

Judges do not have to report gifts from close personal friends if the gift is for a special occasion and is fairly commensurate with the occasion and the relationship, according to the Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee.

The committee also recently held that a judge may lead a nonprofit civic organization which puts on cultural events for the community, and a part-time child support hearing officer may practice law in the same circuit and county in which she presides as long as the officer does not practice probate, guardianship, or mental health law.

Reporting Gifts

The Code of Judicial Conduct does not require a judge to report gifts received from his or her spouse, children, siblings, and close personal friends, Opinion Number: 2002-20.

The inquiring judge asks whether she must report those gifts or if she is only required to report gifts from others that exceed $100. The judge said Canon 5D(5)(a)(g) appears to preclude the reporting of gifts received from family members and close friends, but is concerned about the committee's prior Opinion 91-7, which implies that gifts from relatives or close personal friends received on special occasions must be reported.

In Opinion 91-7, eight members of the committee said baby shower gifts should be reported the same as any other gifts falling under the provisions of Canons 5D(5) and 6. The opinion further explained, "[f]or example, you do not have to disclose gifts from relatives and you should not accept gifts from a person whose interests may come before you in the immediate future." In Opinion 94-18, the committee reaffirmed that gifts from relatives do not-need. to be reported.

"The committee recedes from JEAC Op. 91-7, to the extent that it may require reporting of a gift from a nonrelative friend, if the gift is for a special occasion and is fairly commensurate with the occasion and the relationship," the committee said. "IT also should be noted that Canon 5(D)5(C) does not have the qualifying language of 'close' friend, friendship that would require. disqualification under Canon 3E, or a person who 'has come or is likely to come or whose interests have come, or are likely to come before the judge.' Therefore, a gift from a nonrelative friend who is not a close friend (such as to require disqualification) must be reported only if it is not commensurate with the occasion and relationship, and its value exceeds $100, and is otherwise acceptable under Canon 5(D)5(h)."

Civic Organizations

A judge may assume the presidency of a nonprofit civic organization which has as its central focus the providing of cultural events to the citizens of the county and which benefits the community through various outreach programs. Opinion Number: 2002-17.

The judge in question has been asked to consider assuming the presidency of SunFest, a nonprofit civic organization billed as Florida's largest music, art and waterfront festival. An executive director and staff run the day-to-day activities of the organization, while the president serves as chair of the board of directors and presides over all meetings.

"The stated objectives of SunFest and the role its president plays in the organization does not preclude a judge's assumption of that position," the panel said. "However, the changing nature of some organizations and of their relationship to the law makes it necessary for a judge to regularly reexamine the activities of organizations with which the judge is affiliated to determine if it is proper for the judge to continue the affiliation."

The committee noted Canon 5C(3)(a) proscribes service by a judge if it is likely that the organization either "will be engaged in proceedings that would ordinarily come before the judge, or will be engaged frequently in adversary proceedings in the court of which the judge is a member or in any court subject to the appellate jurisdiction of the court of which the judge is a member."

The committee said if SunFest became regularly involved in litigation, participation in the organization would not be appropriate and the judge must limit his/her participation in the financial aspects of an organization to minimize the risk of conflict with judicial duties.

"While the inquiry indicates that an executive director would manage the day to day activities of SunFest, we caution the, inquiring judge to be aware that this committee has previously stated that it may be difficult for a judge to avoid activities which conflict with Canon 5 if the judge has final authority to approve the overall planning of a fundraising campaign," the panel said.

Hearing Officers

A part-time Title IV child support hearing officer may practice law in the same circuit and same county in which the hearing officer presides as long as the officer does not practice probate, guardianship, or mental health law; Opinion Number: 2002-21.

"Although we answer the inquiry in the affirmative, the committee cautions that the crux of our opinions is that the part-time child support officers should not practice in any area which might reasonably be expected to overlap with the family law area as specifically noted by this committee in JEAC Opinion 00-32."
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Author:Killian, Mark D.
Publication:Florida Bar News
Date:Oct 15, 2002
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