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In re: Amendments to Code of Judicial Conduct

Supreme Court of Florida

May 18, 2017

IN RE: AMENDMENTS TO THE CODE OF JUDICIAL CONDUCT.

          PER CURIAM.

         The Court, on its own motion, amends the Code of Judicial Conduct (Code) to clarify the public financial and gift disclosure requirements for judges, and to reiterate that the filing of the public financial disclosure reports required by the Code is the only public disclosure of financial interests, compensation, gifts, or other benefits a judge or justice is required to make.[1] We adopt these clarifying amendments in response to uncertainty as to some of the reporting requirements expressed by some judges.

         When the Court first adopted the Code of Judicial Conduct in 1973, it made clear that the financial reporting requirements of the Code "supersede[] the requirements of any statute relating to financial reporting and it will not be necessary for the justices and judges to file reports under any statute since such reports are filed under Canon 6." In re The Florida Bar-Code of Judicial Conduct, 281 So.2d 21, 22 (Fla. 1973). In 1977, the Court amended Canon 6 in response to the adoption of the full and public financial disclosure requirements of article II, section 8, of the Florida Constitution. At that time, the Court also added the current Canons 5 and 6 gift reporting requirements, recognizing in the Commentary to Canon 6 that the reporting required in Canons 5 and 6 is "in lieu of that prescribed" in Chapter 112, as stated in the Court's 1973 opinion. See In re Code of Judicial Conduct (Financial Disclosure), 348 So.2d 891, 893 (Fla. 1977). The current Commentary to Canon 6 discussing the required financial disclosure reports reads substantially the same.

         In response to the recent uncertainty as to certain reporting requirements, [2]we have reviewed Canons 5D(5)(a) (Financial Activities; Gifts), 6A (Compensation for Quasi-Judicial and Extrajudicial Services and Reimbursement of Expenses), and 6B (Public Financial Reporting) of the Code, as well as this Court's prior opinions, and we conclude that the ethical requirements imposed on judges and justices by the Code, including the financial and gift reporting requirements, remain the standard of conduct and of reporting for the judicial branch. The stated expectations of conduct ensure the overarching purpose of our Code of Judicial Conduct, which, as stated in the Preamble to the Code, is to establish "standards for ethical conduct of judges" in order to ensure "an independent, fair and competent judiciary" and "to enhance and maintain confidence in our legal system." Accordingly, we add a new Commentary to Canon 6 to reiterate that "[t]he filing of the disclosure reports required under Canon 6B is the only public disclosure of financial interests, compensation, gifts, expense reimbursements, or other benefits that a judge is required to make under this Code or the Florida Constitution. By filing the required disclosure reports, a judge fulfills all the expectations of conduct, and ethical and constitutional requirements related to such disclosure."

         We also amend Canons 5D(5)(a), 6A, and 6B(2) of the Code. The amendments to Canon 5D(5)(a) (Financial Activities; Gifts) and its commentary clarify that the attendance, without charge, of a bar-related event such as a bar-related lunch, dinner, or social event such as a reception or Law Day event does not have to be reported as a gift as long as the actual value of attending the individual event does not exceed $100, despite the fact that the aggregate value of attending such functions or events given by the same bar association or other entity in the same calendar year exceeds $100. Even though a judge must report attending, without charge, a bar-related event if the value of attending that event exceeds $100, we encourage all judges to continue to attend, whenever possible, these events which allow our judges to meet with members of the Bar.

         The amendments to Canon 6A (Compensation for Quasi-Judicial and Extrajudicial Services and Reimbursement of Expenses) clarify that: (a) allowed compensation is reportable income under Canon 6B(1); (b) honoraria and speaking fees may be accepted and are reportable income under Canon 6B(1); and (c) reimbursement of expenses over the actual cost of the expenses incurred also is reportable income under Canon 6B(1). Additionally, Canons 6A and 6B(2) (Public Financial Reporting; Gifts) and the Commentary to Canon 6 are amended to require that reimbursement for reasonable expenses incurred or the direct payment for a judge's travel, food, lodging, and other expenses in connection with the judge's participation in quasi-judicial and extrajudicial activities permitted by this Code is not a gift, but shall be reported under Canon 6B(2), as amended, if the amount of the reimbursement, payment, or waiver alone or in the aggregate with other reimbursements, payments, or waivers received from the same source in the same calendar year exceeds $100.

         Accordingly, we amend the Code of Judicial Conduct, as reflected in the appendix to this opinion. New language is indicated by underscoring and deletions are indicated by struck-through type. The amendments are effective, nunc pro tunc, January 1, 2017, with the first disclosure reports under the amended canons due on or before July 1, 2018. Because the amendments were not published for comment prior to their adoption, interested persons shall have sixty days from the date of this opinion in which to file comments with the Court.[3] The Court specifically requests comments from the Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, the Conference of District Court of Appeal Judges, the Conference of Circuit Court Judges, and the Conference of County Court Judges.

         It is so ordered.

          LABARGA, CJ, and PARIENTE, LEWIS, QUINCE, CANADY, POLSTON, and LAWSON, JJ, concur

         THE FILING OF A MOTION FOR REHEARING SHALL NOT ALTER THE EFFECTIVE DATE OF THESE AMENDMENTS.

         Original Proceeding - The Code of Judicial Conduct

         APPENDIX

         CANON 5. A Judge Shall Regulate Extrajudicial Activities to Minimize the Risk of Conflict with Judicial Duties

         A. - C. [No Change]

         D. Financial Activities.

         (1) - (4) [No Change] (5) A judge shall not accept, and shall urge members of the judge's family residing in the judge's household not to accept, a gift, bequest, favor or loan from anyone except for:

         (a) a gift incident to a public testimonial, books, tapes and other resource materials supplied by publishers on a complimentary basis for official use, or an invitation to the judge and the judge's spouse or guest to attend a bar-related function or an activity devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice, including attending, without charge, a bar-related lunch, dinner, or social event; and if the value of attending an individual function or event exceeds $100, the judge shall report it under Canon 6B(2);

         (b) a gift, award or benefit incident to the business, profession or other separate activity of a spouse or other family member of a judge residing in the judge's household, including gifts, awards and benefits for the use of both the spouse or other family member and the judge (as spouse or family member), provided the gift, award or benefit could not reasonably be perceived as intended to influence the judge in the performance of judicial duties;

         (c) ordinary social hospitality;

         (d) a gift from a relative or friend, for a special occasion, such as a wedding, anniversary or birthday, if the gift is fairly commensurate with the occasion and the relationship;

         (e) a gift, bequest, favor or loan from a relative or close personal friend whose appearance or interest in a case would in any event require disqualification under Canon 3E;

         (f) a loan from a lending institution in its regular course of business on the same terms generally available to persons who are not judges;

         (g) a scholarship or fellowship awarded on the same terms and based on the same criteria applied to other applicants; or

         (h) any other gift, bequest, favor or loan, only if: the donor is not a party or other person who has come or is likely to come or whose interests have come or are likely to come before the judge; and, if its value, or the aggregate value in a calendar year of such gifts, bequests, favors, or loans from a single source, exceeds ...


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