A State’s interest in preserving public confidence in the integrity of its judiciary extends beyond its interest in preventing the appearance of corruption in legislative and executive elections, because a judge’s role differs from that of a politician. Unlike a politician, who is expected to be appropriately responsive to the preferences of supporters, a judge in deciding cases may not follow the preferences of his supporters or provide any special consideration to his campaign donors.
–Chief Justice John Roberts, Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar April 2015
Broward County Circuit Court candidate Lea Krauss’ political activity appears to run afoul of Florida elections law and the Code of Judical Conduct. Yesterday, REDBROWARD exposed how Krauss attended the Hollywood Hills Democratic Club meeting at Orangebrook Country Club. Billed as a “holiday party,” the invitation urged guests to “kick off” the 2016 election for an admission fee of just seven dollars. Krauss posted pictures from the event on her Facebook campaign page.
While wearing her campaign badge, Krauss snapped pictures with Democrat politicans and officials such as State Rep. Elaine Schwartz, Broward County Commissioner Beam Furr and Broward Democrat Party acting-chair Cynthia Busch. On her Facebook page, Krauss identified the party simply as the “Hollywood Hills Holiday Party.”
FLORIDA LAWS FOR JUDICIAL CANDIDATES
Florida Statute 105.071 (1) states, a candidate for judicial office shall not, “Participate in any partisan political party activities, except that such candidate may register to vote as a member of any political party and may vote in any party primary for candidates for nomination of the party in which she or he is registered to vote.” Section 105.071 states a judicial candidate shall not, “make contributions to political party funds.”
The Florida Supreme Court, Code Of Judicial Conduct Canon 7 sets clear guidelines for judges and judicial candidates. Section (A)(1)(d) states a judge or candidate shall not attend political party functions. Section (A)(1)(e) states a judge or candidate shall not,”solicit funds for, pay an assessment to or make a contribution to a political organization or candidate or purchase tickets for political party dinners or other functions.”
While Canon 7 allows a judge or candidate to attend a political function to “speak on behalf of his or her campaign,” section (C)(3) states the “function must not be a fund raiser.” The section states a candidate, “must avoid conduct that suggests or appears to suggest support of or opposition to a political party, a political issue or another candidate.”
US SUPREME COURT BACKS CANON 7
Numerous Florida Supreme Court decisions have reaffirmed the importance of Canon 7. In 2004, the Florida Court upheld the public reprimand of Judge Carven Angel of Marion County. Judge Carven and his family repeatedly attended partisan political party events including informal parties and cookouts.
In April 2015, the United States Supreme Court dealt with Canon 7 in Lanell Williams-Yulee v Florida Bar (135 S. Ct. 1656). After personally soliciting campaign contributions in a letter, Williams-Yulee argued Canon 7 violated her right to free speech. In the rejecting her argument, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, “Judges are not politicians, even when they come to the bench by way of the ballot. And a State’s decision to elect its judiciary does not compel it to treat judicial candidates like campaigners for political office. A State may assure its people that judges will apply the law without fear or favor—and without having personally asked anyone for money.”
KRAUSS CLAIMS PARTY WAS NON-PARTISAN?!?!
In a telephone interview with REDBROWARD, Lea Krauss said the Hills Democratic Club meeting was not a partisan political party event. Krauss said she was invited via an email from the club’s president, State Rep. Elaine Schwartz.
REDBROWARD obtained the email invitation sent by Schwartz. She states, “Help Us Celebrate the Kick-Off of our 2016 GOTV Plans.” GOTV is the acronym for “GET OUT THE VOTE.” GOTV is the most highly partisan activity of any political party. By definition, it is the very way political parties win elections.
While this may be been billed as a “holiday party,” the club makes it clear the meeting is a safeplace for partisan political party activity.
The invitation states the Hills Democratic club is a “positive place for Democrats to meet.” These Democrats are urged to join “Help Me” Howard Finkelstein, “Broward’s Celebrity Public Defender” kick off the 2016 election. The bottom of the invitation is an application to join the Hills Democratic Club (for a fee).
Sources tell REDBROWARD that local Democrat clubs use these fees to make contributions to the Broward Democratic Executive Committee.
Krauss told REDBROWARD she paid the $7 dollar admission fee to the party.
Krauss admitted she was not invited to speak at the meeting. “I said hello to people,” Krauss said.
Krauss said she read Canon 7, but denied she her actions violated the rules. She said, “I gave you a clear statement. I was invited by the club president as were all the other candidates.” Krauss said she could not remember if her opponents, Maxine Streeter and Andrea Gundersen attended the meeting.
Numerous opinions from the Florida Supreme Court Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee (JEAC) deal with similar situations. Judges and candidates cannot attend a partisan political party event just to socialize and mingle. JEAC clearly states, “In responding to an inquiry the committee decided that a judicial candidate may not to the premises upon which a political party is holding a political meeting for the purpose of meeting and greeting delegates where the candidate, and others, have not been invited for the purpose of speaking on behalf of the candidacy.” Krauss admits she was not invited to speak on behalf of her candidacy.
In April 2014, JEAC issued an opinion regarding paying for a table at a political event. The political party claimed the cost would be used to cover event expenses not fund raising. The JEAC stated, “However, it is each candidate’s responsibility, before attending an event subject to Canon 7(C)(3), to verify that the conditions imposed by the Canon are met.” Did Krauss know how the Hills Democratic Club would use her money?