May judicial candidates wear clothes emblazoned with their campaign website address?
A “bare majority” of the Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee says it’s permissible for a judicial candidate to wear a shirt, hat, or other apparel that shows the website address maintained by the candidate’s committee which includes options to donate and to endorse the campaign.
That is, so long as the candidate does not personally solicit attorneys and others by directing them to the campaign website for the purpose of making donations and showing support.
The advisory panel acted November 30 in Opinion Number: 2023-12, noting that although it is the JEAC’s stated policy not to vet campaign literature, this question “is capable of recurring and that the answer to the question will be of interest to other candidates now and in future contests.”
Canon 7C(1) forbids judicial candidates from personally soliciting funds or support. Instead, such tasks may only be performed by whatever “committees of responsible persons” the candidate appoints for that purpose. Therefore, in JEAC Op. 2008-11, the committee opined that a judge could not use the judge’s personal website to facilitate the giving of financial or other support to the judge’s re-election effort.
In JEAC Op. 2004-07, the committee said a circuit judge who was a candidate for office could not personally distribute to attorneys campaign material, which solicited financial or in-kind contributions, and especially not if the materials contain an envelope for mailing a financial contribution to the campaign.
The JEAC also noted the Florida Supreme Court recently disciplined a lawyer who stipulated that while campaigning for judicial office, she solicited donations by handing out postcards and giving speeches that directed voters to her website that contained a “Donate Now” button, in addition to posting invitations on her personal social media pages to her campaign fundraisers and asking voters to support her by donating to her campaign.
“The common thread running through our prior opinions, and the stipulation accepted in Florida Bar v. Early, is personal solicitation by a judicial candidate,” the opinion said. “The question presented by the instant inquiry is, therefore, whether merely displaying the campaign’s website amounts to personal solicitation by a judicial candidate.”
The JEAC said a “bare majority” of the committee concludes that the sort of passive advertisement described by the inquiring judicial candidate does not run afoul of Canon 7C(1).
“These members do not read Canon 7 as prohibiting a judicial candidate from making any reference whatsoever to the campaign’s website merely because it contains a link for donation,” the opinion said. “Context is the key to finding the line between passive advertisement and personal solicitation. As our prior opinions have explained, a candidate must not personally solicit attorneys and others by directing them to the campaign website for the purpose of making donations and showing support.”
A “significant” minority of the committee disagrees.
“They conclude that a judicial candidate wearing apparel displaying the URL of a campaign website, which contains an option to donate or endorse the campaign, amounts to personally soliciting campaign funds or personally soliciting attorneys for publicly stated support contrary to Canon 7C(1),” the opinion said.
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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