Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Sue Carlton: On judges, guns and impartiality

Life is good when you're a judge.

You go to law school, become an attorney and attain a position so prestigious people call you "your honor." You sit on the bench and ponder intriguing nuances of the law. You make rulings that, no exaggeration, change lives.

There's also that nifty gavel and the nice robe.

But with this prestige comes a price. And it's that you're generally not supposed to wear your politics on the sleeve of that robe.

Judges have to look like they are hearing cases without the kind of bias that would make us assume they will lean this way or that. They're not supposed to lend their lofty titles to, say, raise funds for an organization — unless that fundraising is all about the law.

They can vote. Live their lives. Believe in what they believe in.

But they're also supposed to act with as much judicial impartiality as a human can humanly muster.

So did you hear the one about the two Florida appeals court judges who bought tables at a recent charity "Friends of NRA" fundraiser and were listed as judges on the program under "sponsors and supporters"?

As the Times' Steve Bousquet reported this week, 1st District Court of Appeal Judges Clay Roberts and Kemmerly Thomas both did thusly for a recent Tallahassee event to support a National Rifle Association charity that is supposed to be about supporting causes like school safety and gun accident prevention, according to the program.

Both judges told the Times they asked to be listed by name only, not judicial title, and that they did not see the program ahead of time.

Oops. Because those impressive titles were there anyway. And if you are the cynical sort, you might think the powerful and politically savvy NRA would not be displeased by the implications:

See? Even the judges get behind our gun rights causes! Says so right there!

Now if you see no potential harm in all of this, would you be okay with your judges named as "sponsors and supporters" of, say, a Planned Parenthood fundraiser? Or for a cause with which you did not agree and one that might indicate a specific leaning by said judges?

Me neither.

And for the record, legal issues regarding gun rights — the "stand your ground" law strongly backed by the NRA, for instance — have been known to come before judges in Florida.

Any ensuing debate on this will no doubt look at previous opinions: The Florida Supreme Court has said it's okay for judges to get involved in fundraising if the activity has to do with the law, legal system and the administration of justice. The state's Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee once opined that a judge should decline an invitation to a dinner for a veterans group because the group wasn't law-related.

Judge Thomas told the Times she was at the NRA charity event as a citizen, not a judge, and that her participation had nothing to do with fundraising. Both said they did not lend their titles to the function.

Here's hoping the Judicial Qualifications Commission, which handles disciplinary matters for Florida judges, give us some clarity on what is and isn't okay when it comes to the wearing of the robe, and what can and can't be on its sleeve.

Sue Carlton can be reached at carlton@tampbay.com.

Sue Carlton: On judges, guns and impartiality 09/29/17 [Last modified: Thursday, September 28, 2017 5:33pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Old Northeast Community Garden asked to vacate with sale of land

    News

    By DIVYA KUMAR

    Times Staff Writer

    ST. PETERSBURG — The chickens still strutted in their coop hours before the community garden at 725 Second St. N would be required to vacate.

  2. Zephyrhills council postpones hearing on water and sewer rate increase

    Local Government

    ZEPHYRHILLS – The Zephyrhills City Council has set a new date for the public to weigh in on a proposed water and sewer rate increase, two weeks after the council received an earful from residents opposing the plan.

  3. Before Tampa tour stop, Katy Perry's creative team breaks down her Witness Tour's 'big, bold images'

    Music & Concerts

    In the ever-escalating arms race to be the most eye-popping pop star on the planet, sometimes you have to call in for backup. Even if you're Katy Perry.

  4. Vendors and shoppers pack Airport Farmers & Flea Market for holiday season

    Business

    BROOKSVILLE — With 300 to 400 vendors packing the Airport Farmers & Flea Market on recent weekends, controlled chaos has been the order of the day for Dorri Spoto, who manages the 16-acre site with her husband, Joe Spoto.

  5. Hernando Beach water tower to stay in place

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — The water tower rising over Hernando Beach — providing a beacon for mariners and a welcome to tourists for years — will not be coming down anytime soon.