Wednesday, February 12, 2014

An Example of Judicial Discipline

When do judicial duties and retail mix? That is a trick question, they don't. Judge Hawkins is a County Court Judge, first elected in 1996. The Judge was accused of using her judicial office to promote a private business, failure to respect and comply with the law, failure to act in a manner promoting public confidence in the judiciary, failure to devote full attention to judicial office, and lack of candor with the The Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC). The JQC was asked to investigate.

The JQC is a fifteen member panel. Two members are chosen by the District Court of Appeal Judges, two are chosen by the Circuit Judges, and two are chosen by the County Court Judges. Four must be lawyers chosen by The Florida Bar Board of Governors. The final five are non-lawyers chosen by the Governor.

According to the JQC website, the "Commission is an independent agency created by the Florida Constitution solely to investigate alleged misconduct by Florida state judges." On January 27, 2014, the JQC issued its Findings, Conclusions and Recommendations in the Inquiry Concerning Judge Judith Hawkins.

The JQC concluded the Judge was guilty of promoting the sale of her private business' products in the courtroom, in the courthouse, to attorneys appearing before the judge, and using the judicial position to promote the sales.

Judge Hawkins was also accused of reading magazines while presiding over jury trials. "when questioned," the judge explained that there was no harm in this as she "could cover" her "lack of attentiveness by asking counsel to rephrase the objection."

Judge Hawkins was accused of devoting "less than (her) full time and full attention to (her) judicial duties." The Judge allegedly has "a great deal of time" and so felt "free to use judicial chambers and out-of-court free time to conduct (her) for-profit business . . .."

After allegations were made, the Judge was accused of deleting subpoenaed financial records, misleading the investigative panel, refusing to turn over financial data, misleading through incompleteness, lacking candor, and obfuscating discovery.

The JQC stated that "The instant case presented a very close call between "removal" and "discipline." They concluded that she "made knowingly misleading statements to the FJQC investigative panel and its investigator," destroyed evidence" and "refused to produce subpoenaed records even after multiple orders." They concluded "this conduct is the antithesis of respect for the law that Judge Hawkins has sworn to uphold.

The JQC recommended that the Supreme Court impose:

(1) a public reprimand;

(2) a three month suspension without pay; and

(3) a $17,000 fine.

According to records of the Florida Department of Management Services, judge Hawkins earns about $138,019.92 per year. This equates to about $378.14 per day. So, ninety days of pay is about $34,032.60.

Recently, the Supreme Court has taken a tougher stand regarding attorney discipline. More on that coming in a post soon. Will the Court accept the FJQC recommendation in this instance and impose this significant fine and public reprimand, or will the Court remove this judge whose chosen behavior "is the antithesis of respect for the law?"

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