Florida Judicial - DISCIPLINE
Supreme Court reprimands 5 judges for sending letter to Florida agency urging award of contract to particular vendor. [Added 4/3/20]
The Florida Supreme Court reprimanded 5 judges for violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct. The violations arose from the judges’ submission of a letter to the Department of Children and Families (DCF) encouraging DCF to award a contract to a particular vendor.
The contract was to be awarded following to a vendor a competitive procurement process. The successful vendor would become the “Lead Agency for Community-Based Care for the Southern Region of Florida – Dade and Monroe Counties.” The contract was worth an estimated $500 million over a 5-year period.
Only two vendors submitted proposals to DCF, “Our Kids” and “Citrus Health Network.” A judge drafted language for a letter she intended to send to DCF, advocating for the selection of Our Kids as the lead agency. The judge emailed the letter to other persons, including judges, asking for additional signatories for her letter. Eventually a letter was written on the judge’s judicial letterhead and signed by 4 other judges. The judge sent the letter endorsing Our Kids to the interim director of DCF and the managing director of the southern region of DCF. The letter concluded with this statement: “We have worked with Our Kids and we have complete faith only in the Our Kids model of leadership. When you select the agency please keep our voices in mind.”
The letter came to light in a newspaper article. The Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) brought ethics charges against the 5 judges. The judges cooperated with the JQC, entering into a stipulation admitting their violations of Florida Code of Judicial Conduct Canons 1, 2, and 4. The judges also stipulated to the recommended discipline of a written public reprimand by publication of an opinion.
The Florida Supreme Court approved the JQC’s findings and imposed the recommended discipline of a reprimand. The Court summarized: “Each respondent fully cooperated with the JQC. Each respondent took responsibility for the misconduct and acknowledged that it should not have happened. The respondents’ letter was not intended to promote the financial interests of themselves or others. Moreover, each respondent has an otherwise unblemished disciplinary history. Thus, we agree with the stipulated discipline of reprimand by publication of this written opinion. We emphasize though, with respect to [the initiating judge’s] distinct role in generating the letter and recruiting other judges to support it, this Court has consistently held that such misconduct warrants a public reprimand. However, in light of [that judge’s] retirement, this Court approves the stipulated discipline of a written reprimand.” Inquiry Concerning a Judge No. 18-72, re: Cindy Lederman et al., __ So.3d __ (Fla., No. SC19-1377, 3/26/2020), 2020 WL 1465928.
Supreme Court reprimands judge for behavior that was “inappropriate, intemperate, and violated the Canons” of judicial ethics. [Added 11/18/19]
The Florida Supreme Court reviewed the recommendation of the Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) regarding two separate incidents involving Judge. Judge and the JCQ stipulated to the facts and to recommended sanctions. The Supreme Court accepted the stipulation and approved the recommended sanctions, which were a public reprimand and continued stress management counseling.
In one case, Judge “employed an ‘adversarial tone and demeanor’ when speaking to a criminal defendant and his lawyer. Despite being alerted to the fact that a juror was overheard commenting about Judge’s treatment of defense counsel, Judge “continued to reprimand defense counsel in full view of the jury” with a tone and facial expressions showing her frustration. In the second case, during sentencing Judge expressed a desire to see the defendant “fight for [his] life” or die within the next 6 weeks. The Supreme Court noted that such comments “compromised the integrity of the judiciary.”
The Court agreed that Judge’s behavior was “inappropriate, intemperate, and violated the Canons” of judicial ethics. Specifically Judge “failed to establish, maintain, and enforce the highest standard of conduct (Canon 1); did not promote public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary (Canon 2A); was not patient, dignified, and courteous to litigants and lawyers (Canon 3B(4)); and neglected to perform her judicial duties without evidencing bias or prejudice (Canon 3B(5)).” Inquiry Concerning a Judge No. 19-101 & 19-175 re: Robin C. Lemonidis, __ So.3d __ (Fla., No. 19-1302, 11/14/2019), 2019 WL 5996619.
Code of Judicial Conduct requires judge to report lawyer to Florida Bar for making false representations to court. [Added 11/1/19]
While presiding over violation of probation proceedings, Judge observed Lawyer stating that “the client/defendant did not speak or understand English; could not proceed without the assistance of an interpreter; and could not have willfully violated the applicable probationary conditions because the defendant never understood those obligations as a result of the alleged language issue.” Judge knows that Lawyer’s statements are false. Judge asked the Florida Supreme Court’s Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee whether he was ethically obligated to report Lawyer’s conduct to the Florida Bar.
Florida Code of Judicial Conduct Canon 3D(2) provides: “A judge who receives information or has actual knowledge that substantial likelihood exists that a lawyer has committed a violation of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar shall take appropriate action.”
Relying on prior opinions, the Committee noted that Judge first must determine whether there is a substantial likelihood that Lawyer violated the Rules of Professional Conduct. If Judge concludes that Lawyer has done so, Judge is obligated to inform the Bar. In the opinion of the Committee, the “appropriate action” referred to in Canon 3D(2) is to refer an offending lawyer to the Bar when the violation raises a substantial question as to the lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer. On the other hand, for a lesser-level violation “appropriate action” could be addressing the problem by direct communication with the offending lawyer.
In Judge's situation, the Committee advised that "Canon 3D(2) requires the inquiring judge to report the attorney to The Florida Bar." Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Opinion 2019-14.
Supreme Court publicly reprimands judge for violations of Code of Judicial Conduct relating to campaign practices. [Added 4/23/19]
Judge campaigned for reelection in 2018. During an interview with a newspaper’s editorial board, Judge “represented himself as a registered Republican.” At the same interview, Judge’s opponent declined to answer the question.
The next month Judge attended a judicial candidate forum that was advertised as an “endorsement event” for the Dolphin Democrats, a partisan political organization. Two weeks later, at another candidate forum, Judge “concluded his stump speech by telling the attendees that he had recently received the endorsement of the Dolphin Democrats.”
The Judicial Qualifications Commission (“JQC”) charged Judge with violations of the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct. Judge admitted that his conduct violated Canon 7C(3) (a judicial candidate may attend political party functions open to all candidates but may not comment on his or her party affiliation or engage in conduct that “suggests or appears to suggest support of or opposition to a political party”) and Canon 7D (forbidding judges from engaging in any political activity not authorized by Code of Judicial Conduct or law). The JCQ recommended a public reprimand. Judge stipulated to the alleged conduct and that it violated the Code, expressed remorse, and accepted the JQC’s findings and recommendation.
The Supreme Court approved the stipulation and imposed the sanction of a public reprimand. The Court noted that the conduct at issue was “distinguishable and involves less severe misconduct than” another recent case involving a violation of Canon 7C (In re Decker, 212 So.3d 291 (Fla. 2017)). The Court commented that “although we recognize Judge Kollra’s cooperation and remorse and commend him on an otherwise unblemished four decades as a member of The Florida Bar, we also note that being ‘a relatively new judge’ and not having any prior experience with ‘an election of any kind’ does not lessen a judicial candidate’s obligations to be familiar with and adhere to the Code of Judicial Conduct. Under the Code, it is incumbent upon judges and judicial candidates to refrain from prohibited political activity. Failures to do so require appropriate discipline. In this case, the appropriate discipline is a public reprimand.” In re Kollra, __ So.3d __ (Fla., SC19-253, 4/18/2019), 2019 WL 1716378.
Judge who provided character reference to criminal defendant awaiting sentencing in federal court is publicly reprimanded by Supreme Court. [Added 11/26/18]
Judge was charged by the Judicial Qualifications Commission of violating the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct by writing a character reference letter on judicial letterhead for a criminal defendant who was awaiting sentencing in a federal case. Judge stipulated to the violations and apologized.
The Supreme Court approved the stipulation, concluding that Judge “violated Canons 1 and 2 by writing and submitting a character reference letter, on her official court stationery, on behalf of a criminal defendant awaiting sentencing in federal court. By engaging in such conduct, [Judge] failed to maintain the high standards of conduct necessary to preserve the integrity of the judiciary, violating Canon 1, and she acted in a manner that could potentially undermine public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary, violating Canon 2A. Further, in violation of Canon 2B, [Judge] created the appearance of impropriety and partiality by improperly lending the prestige of her office to advance the private interests of the defendant for whom she improperly acted as a character witness.”
Judge was ordered to appear before the Supreme Court to receive a public reprimand. Inquiry Concerning a Judge No. 18-108 re: Deborah White-Labora, __ So.3d __ (Fla., No. SC18-950, 11/15/2018), 2018 WL 5994087.
Supreme Court removes judge from office for ethical violations during election campaign. [Added 11/8/18]
In July 2018 the Florida Supreme Court ordered Judge Santino removed from office for ethical violations, On October 19, 2018, the Court followed up on that action by issuing an opinion explaining its reasons for Judge’s removal.
During a contentious campaign in which she ran as a candidate for county court judge, Santino was accused of violating judicial conduct rules. The allegations primarily related to electronic advertising about her opponent. Among other things, the advertising declared that the opponent “made a lot of money trying to free Palm Beach County’s worst criminals” rather than representing “victims of crime,” in contrast with Santino. The Palm Beach County Bar Association’s Judicial Campaign Practices Commission rendered a unanimous advisory opinion that Santino’s advertising violated the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct. Santino won the election.
The Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) charged Santino with violations. “The Hearing Panel of the JQC concluded that Santino violated canons 7A(3)(a), 7A(3)(b), 7A(3)(c), 7A(3)(e)(i), and 7A(3)(e)(ii) of the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct, and rules 4-8.2(a) and 4-8.2(b) of the Rules Regulating the Florida Bar and recommended that she be removed from office.”
The Supreme Court approved the findings and the recommended sanction. The Court noted that “[w]here a judge commits misconduct in office, this Court has examined the issue of “present fitness” from two perspectives: ‘its effect on the public’s trust and confidence in the judiciary as reflected in its impact on the judge’s standing in the community, and the degree to which past misconduct points to future misconduct fundamentally inconsistent with the responsibilities of judicial office.’” (Citations omitted.) The Court ruled against Santino on both issues.
“We agreed with the JQC that it ‘strain[ed] credulity to believe that  Santino never looked at the Facebook page she knew was going to be created, when it was available to the public, after she received telephone calls from prominent lawyers telling her it was not being ‘well received,’ or even, as she said, before telling her campaign consultant to take it down.’ As noted by the Hearing Panel, ‘[n]othing in Canon 7 permitted Santino to delegate to her campaign manager the responsibility for written materials created or distributed by the campaign.’ Santino’s conduct cannot be deemed the product of ‘missteps’ in the course of a heated campaign. Accordingly, the actions of Santino – individually and through her campaign, for which she was ultimately responsible – unquestionably eroded public confidence in the judiciary.” Santino’s statements about her impermissibly suggested that she would be biased against criminal defendants, and were “sufficient to create fear on the behalf of criminal defendants . . . that they would not receive a fair trial or hearing.”
The past misconduct also pointed to future misconduct, with the Court observing that “although Santino accepted responsibility for her actions, she did not do so until the JQC complaint was filed against her.” Inquiry Concerning a Judge No. 16-534 re: Dana Marie Santino, __ So.3d __ (Fla., No. SC17-362), 2018 WL 5095128.
Supreme Court removes judge for “egregious misconduct” during campaign and other misconduct while in office. [Added 9/10/18]
The Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) charged Judge with a number of violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct. After appropriate proceedings the JQC recommended that Judge be removed from office. The Florida Supreme Court agreed and ordered Judge removed.
Among other things, Judge was found guilty of: posting unsubstantiated “scandalous information” about his opponent on his campaign website, without making an effort to verify its accuracy; making inaccurate statements about his opponent and the opponent’s family during a televised candidate forum, without attempting to verify the information; publicly announcing his position that he would not find any statute unconstitutional; ordering a deputy sheriff to search a person during a family law proceeding, and then having the deputy seize the money that was found; and holding first appearance hearings very early in the morning over a holiday weekend to accommodate Judge’s campaign schedule, and then starting one session earlier than announced with no counsel present.
The Court concluded: “. . . Judge DuPont committed egregious misconduct during his campaign to attain his office. Under these circumstances, we cannot allow Judge DuPont to serve the term of his judgeship. Based on the misrepresentations Judge DuPont made during his campaign to attain his office as well as the other instances of misconduct during his time in office, we conclude that Judge DuPont has demonstrated a present unfitness to hold office and approve the recommended discipline of removal from office.” Inquiry Concerning a Judge, No. 16-377 re: Scott C. DuPont, __ So.3d __ (Fla., No. SC16-2103, 9/6/2018), 2018 WL _______.
Supreme Court suspends and publicly reprimands judge as a result of allegedly misleading and deceptive campaign advertising. [Added 6/5/17]
While still a lawyer and judicial candidate, Judge ran a campaign ad that featured part of an endorsement she received 20 years before while serving as a state legislator. The ad did not include the date of the endorsement, and the quotation used in the ad by Judge omitted the portion of the endorsement that referred to her legislative service.
The Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) found Judge had violated provisions of the Florida Code of Judicial Canons and the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar. Specifically, the JQC Hearing Panel “found Judge Shepard guilty of violating Canon 7A(3)(e)(ii) ‘by knowingly misrepresenting ‘other facts’ concerning her candidacy’ and Canon 7A(3)(b) ‘by acting in a manner inconsistent with integrity of the judiciary by these knowing misrepresentations.’” Judge was also found guilty of violating Rule 4-8.2(b) of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar ((lawyer who is candidate for judicial office shall comply with applicable provisions of Code of Judicial Conduct).
The JQC recommended discipline in the form of a public reprimand, a 90-day suspension without pay, and payment of investigative and hearing costs.
The Supreme Court approved the guilty findings and the recommended discipline. The Court rejected Judge’s contention that Canons 7(A)(3)(e)(ii) was unconstitutional under the First Amendment. The Court also rejected Judge’s claim that she did not receive due process. Inquiry Concerning a Judge No. 14-488 re: Kimberly Michele Shepard, __ So.3d __ (Fla., No. SC15-1746, 5/4/2017) 2017 WL 1739233.
Supreme Court reprimands judge for ex parte communication and conduct “as improper as it was rude." [Added 11/14/16] -- Inquiry Concerning a Judge No. 15-200 re: John Patrick Contini, __ So.3d __ (Fla., No. SC15-2148, 10/11/2016), 2016 WL _______.
Supreme Court disciplines 2 judges, one for improper conduct in court and the other for improper ex parte communication and involvement in litigant’s case. [Added 7/14/16] -- Inquiry Concerning a Judge, No. 15-530 re: Jerri Collins, __ So.3d __ (Fla., No. SC16-548, 7/7/2016), 2016 WL _______; Inquiry Concerning a Judge, No. 16-970 re: Gregory Holder, __ So.3d __ (Fla., No. SC16-970, 7/7/2016), 2016 WL _______.
Supreme Court removes judge from office for conduct relating to physical altercation with assistant public defender. [Added 12/21/15] -- Inquiry Concerning a Judge, No. 14-255 re: John C. Murphy, __ So.3d __ (Fla., No. SC14-1582, 12/17/2015), 2015 WL _______.
Supreme Court disciplines judge for “rude and intemperate interaction” with citizen during contested judicial election, as well as improper use of authority while presiding over case. [Added 9/16/15] -- Inquiry Concerning a Judge, Nos. 14-299, 14-415 re: Jacqueline Schwartz, __ So.3d __ (Fla., No. SC14-312, 9/10/2015).
Supreme Court removes judge from bench due to misconduct as a lawyer before being elected to judicial office. [Added 6/20/15] -- Inquiry Concerning a Judge, No. 12-613 re: Laura Marie Watson, __ So.3d __ (Fla., No. SC13-1333, 6/18/2015), 2015 WL 3767859.
Supreme Court suspends judge for 30 days for using social media for her husband’s judicial campaign. [Added 6/5/15] --
Inquiry Concerning a Judge, No. 14-454 re: Debra L. Krause, __ So.3d __ (Fla., No. SC14-1812, 6/4/2015), 2015 WL 3496447.
Judge publicly reprimanded by Supreme Court for lack of candor in connection with statements made before Judicial Nominating Commission. [Added 4/11/115] -- Inquiry Concerning a Judge No. 14-557 re: Jessica J. Recksiedler, __ So.3d __ (Fla., No. SC15-311, 4/9/2015).
Supreme Court removes county court judge from office for violations of Code of Judicial Conduct including conducting private business out of chambers and obstructing JQC’s investigation. [Added 10/30/14] -- Inquiry Concerning a Judge, No. 11-550 re: Judith W. Hawkins, ___ So.3d __ (Fla., No. SC12-2495, 10/30/2014).
Judge reprimanded for demeaning those who appeared before her in certain cases and for appearing at first appearance criminal hearing for her sister. [Added 10/20/14] -- Inquiry Concerning a Judge, No. 13-17 re: Sandy K. Kautz, ___ So.3d __ (Fla., No. SC13-2262, 10/16/2014).
Supreme Court reprimands judge for DUI conviction. [Added 5/22/14] -- Inquiry Concerning a Judge, No. 13-309 re: Brenda Tracy Sheehan, __ S0.3d __ (Fla., No. SC14-136, 5/15/2014).
Supreme Court reprimands judge for intemperate courtroom behavior. [Added 3/13] -- Inquiry Concerning a Judge, No. 10-265 re: Timothy R. Shea, 110 So.3d 414 (Fla. 2013).
Supreme Court publicly reprimands judge convicted of driving under the influence. [Added 7/13/12] -- Inquiry Concerning a Judge, No. 11-551 re: Kathryn Maxine Nelson, 95 So.3d 122 (Fla. 2012).
Supreme Court reprimands judge for “habitual tardiness” and an “inappropriate” statement about his religious beliefs. [Added 6/8/12] -- Inquiry Concerning a Judge, No. 10-420 re: William Singbush, 93 So.3d 188 (Fla. 2012).