Code of judicial conduct limits what judges can read, discuss about cases

Letters, emails, phone calls, petitions for change, will likely never reach the judge's desk

Have you ever checked your favorite news source and read a story that troubled you? An unfortunate situation has befallen another and you feel a need to do something, anything, to help that person. Sometimes such actions involve showing your support or speaking your mind in a tweet, IG post, letter to a CEO, newspaper, or elected official.

Guess what happens if you write to a judge to show your support or speak your mind on a particular matter when you are not personally involved in that matter? Mostly nothing happens.

Illustration of a laptop computer, letters, email and online messaging

The judge will likely never see the correspondence. And if you call the judge’s office you will not be able to speak to the judge about said unfortunate situation, either. Judges cannot read correspondence/ documents or have conversations about a case outside the presence of all parties, as it is considered ex-parte communication.

Here’s why.

Judges live by a set of codes called “canons,” of which there are seven in Florida’s Code of Judicial Conduct. They are:

  • Canon 1: A judge shall uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary.
  • Canon 2: A judge shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all the judge’s activities.
  • Canon 3: A judge shall perform the duties of elected office impartially and diligently.
  • Canon 4: A judge is encouraged to engage in activities to improve the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice.
  • Canon 5: A judge shall regulate extrajudicial activities to minimize the risk of conflict with judicial duties.
  • Canon 6: Fiscal matters of a judge shall be conducted in a manner that does not give the appearance of influence or impropriety; etc.
  • Canon 7: A judge or candidate for judicial office shall refrain from inappropriate political activity.

The mission of the Florida State Courts System, therefore the mission of a judge, is to protect rights and liberties, uphold and interpret the law, and provide for the peaceful resolution of disputes. Judges do this by following rules of procedure, listening to what both sides have to say in a courtroom, and weighing the evidence before them, and that is all.

Let’s break it down with a fictional scenario.

Judge Magenta is assigned a case about a local school that banned students from wearing the latest craze: G.O.A.T. tennis shoes.

The case is trending on social media and students from around the globe are uploading pro-student/ G.O.A.T. videos.

Concerned citizens start calling Judge Magenta’s office, sending her emails and letters to say how unfair it is that the kids can’t wear what they want.

But Judge Magenta is only allowed to consider documents, evidence, and expert testimony in the presence of all parties in the case – in this scenario the parties are the school principal, the school’s lawyer, the parents of the children who want to wear G.O.A.T. tennis shoes, and the parents’ lawyers.

The school and the parents must follow rules when submitting documents and evidence to Judge Magenta. If one side has not been able to review the evidence, or if one side does not follow the rules of submitting the evidence, then Judge Magenta is not allowed to consider it, no matter how relevent it is to the issue.

As for expert testimony, both sides would have a chance to learn what the experts have to say and then have a chance to ask questions.

Remember all the phone calls, emails and letters that concerned people sent to Judge Magenta’s office? Those messages are considered ex-parte communications because only the judge received the messages, and it would be improper for Judge Magenta to consider them in her deliberations. That means the judge’s assistant cannot forward the messages to the judge. Instead, the assistant will send copies of emails and letters to the parties then place the original messages into the court file.

Even if the parents of the children who want to wear the shoes encourages everyone in the community to write to Judge Magenta, her duty as a judge is to remain fair and impartial and to judge each case by the evidence properly put before her.

While the scenario is fiction, Florida’s Code of Judicial Conduct is not. Following the code helps ensure judges can do their job and make hard decisions without fear or favor, and the code ensures judges will treat everyone and every case individually, impartially and without bias. Violating the code means eroding the public’s confidence in the judiciary and injury to our system of government.

[ LEARN MORE ]

In addition to Florida’s Code of Judicial Conduct, in 2005, judges statewide adopted nine principles of professionalism that address concepts not covered by existing rules. Read the nine principles on the Court’s website.

Return to News List