There is a crisis that seriously impacts the integrity of the judicial system. And no, I’m not talking about the way the courts all across this state have set out, openly antagonistic to the interests of consumers as we’ve all experienced for years in the foreclosure process.
And no, I’m not talking about broom closets that function as Star Chamber courtrooms presided over by retired judges. Heck, I’m not even talking about explicit funding for courts that comes directly from the banks to pay for the operation of their own Foreclosure Star Chambers…don’t worry about any of that at all.
What I’m talking about is the problem of judges wearing fancy robes.
In adopting the new rule, we want to assuage any concern that this Court does not have confidence in Florida’s judges. To the contrary, this Court holds the judges of this state in the utmost esteem and is confident the vast majority of judges fully fulfill their ethical responsibilities to respect and honor the judicial office they hold, and to present and conduct themselves in a manner that promotes trust and confidence in our judicial system. See Fla. Code of Jud. Conduct, Preamble (recognizing that “intrinsic to all sections of [the Code of Judicial Conduct] are the precepts that judges, individually and collectively, must respect and honor the judicial office as a public trust and strive to enhance and maintain confidence in our legal system”). Our Code of Judicial Conduct recognizes that as the “arbiter of facts and law for the resolution of disputes,” Florida’s judges are the face of the judicial branch of government. And, as such, judges must conduct themselves accordingly, both in their actions and their appearance.
When a litigant appears in court, it is the presiding judge who sets the tone of the proceedings, puts those in attendance at ease, and maintains order and decorum throughout the proceedings, all of which establishes confidence in the legal process.
Consistent with the overarching precept of the Code of Judicial Conduct that judges, individually and collectively, must promote trust and confidence in the judicial system, it is the policy of the judicial branch and of this Court to develop strategies to promote public trust and confidence in the judiciary.
Presiding judges wearing different colored robes or robes with varying embellishments could result in uncertainty for those coming before our courts and serve to counter the efforts the branch has employed to gain the public’s trust.
For example, one could question whether there is a “status” attributed to the varying colors or embellishments worn by different judges, e.g., whether the color or embellishment denotes a rank of judge based on tenure, ability, or some other factor—is this judge more or less qualified or maybe the chief judge? Depending on the color or pattern of the robe or the type of embellishment worn, some may wonder whether the presiding judge is a “real judge” or whether the judge will take the proceedings seriously. Robe color also could be seen as a reflection of a judge’s mood or attitude that day. Should a defendant facing the death penalty feel trepidation when the presiding judge appears in a red robe or feel more at ease when the robe is green? The possibility that the unique attire of the judge assigned to one’s case could raise these concerns and thereby diminish public trust and confidence in the proceedings is not acceptable.
The public should not have to guess as to the meaning of different colored, patterned, or embellished robes. Promoting uniformity in judicial attire, by requiring all judges to wear unembellished, solid black robes, will no doubt avoid these concerns and promote public trust and confidence. The people of Florida have a right to expect equal justice every day, in every court in this state, and should not have to question whether equal justice is being dispensed based on the color of a judge’s robe.
It is also reasonable for the people of Florida to expect the members of their judiciary to conduct themselves as professionals consistent with the rules and guidelines adopted by this Court. We have no doubt that the clear majority of judges conduct themselves in the most exemplary manner and hold themselves to the highest of standards, and would do so without any rules governing their conduct or attire. Unfortunately, that is not the case with all judges. One need only read the myriad opinions from this Court disciplining judges after a finding of misconduct by the Judicial Qualifications Commission to agree that this Court must provide guidance when it identifies an area of potential concern. Adopting new rule 2.340 is but another step this Court takes in furtherance of its oversight and leadership role in identifying and implementing strategies to enhance the public trust and confidence in the third branch of government.
Accordingly, we amend the Florida Rules of Judicial Administration as reflected in the appendix to this opinion. The new language is indicated by underscoring. The new rule shall become effective immediately upon the release of this opinion.