Articles Posted in Florida Supreme Court

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The Supreme Court concluded that the findings of the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) Hearing Panel that Circuit Court Judge Kimberly Michele Shepard violated Canons 7A(3)(e)(ii) and 7A(3)(b) of the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct and Rule 4-8.2(b) of the Rules Regulating the Florida Bar during her judicial campaign were supported by clear and convincing evidence. The Supreme Court approved the sanction recommended by the Hearing Panel and hereby suspended Judge Shepard without pay for ninety days, ordered her to pay investigative costs and the costs of these proceedings, and commanded Judge Shepard to appear before the Court for the administration of a public reprimand. View "Inquiry Concerning Judge Kimberly Michele Shepard" on Justia Law

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After an evidentiary hearing, the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) determined that Circuit Judge Andrew J. Decker, III violated certain provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct during his judicial campaign and certain Florida Bar Rules of Professional Conduct before his judicial campaign. The JQC hearing panel recommended a ninety-day suspension, public reprimand, and payment of costs of the proceedings. The Supreme Court concluded that, with limited exceptions, the hearing panel’s findings were supported by clear and convincing evidence and modified in part the recommended sanction and imposed a six-month suspension, public reprimand, and payment of costs of the proceedings on Judge Decker. View "Inquiry Concerning Judge Andrew J. Decker, III" on Justia Law

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In 1997, Aaron sustained a catastrophic brain injury at birth due to the negligence of employees at Lee Memorial. The family retained the law firm, under a contingency fee agreement providing for payment of 40 percent of any recovery if a lawsuit was filed, plus costs, and stating that if "one of the parties to pay my claim for damages is a governmental agency, I understand that Federal and Florida Law may limit the amount of attorney fees ... in that event, I understand that the fees owed ... shall be the amount provided by law.” A jury awarded the child $28.3 million, the mother $1.34 million, and the father $1 million. Because the hospital was an independent special district of the state, the court enforced the sovereign immunity damage limitations and entered a judgment for $200,000, which was affirmed. The firm pursued a two-year lobbying effort to secure a claims bill from the Legislature. In 2012 the Legislature passed a claims bill, directing Lee Memorial to pay $10 million, with an additional $5 million to be paid in annual installments to a special needs trust for Aaron, stating that payment of fees and costs from those funds shall not exceed $100,000. No funds were awarded for the parents. The firm petitioned the guardianship court to approve a $2.5 million for attorneys’ fees and costs. The court denied the request. On appeal, the district court affirmed. The Supreme Court of Florida reversed, holding that the fee limitation in the claims bill is unconstitutional and may not stand when such a limitation impairs a preexisting contract. View "Searcy, Denney, Scarola, Barnhart & Shipley. v. Florida" on Justia Law

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The Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) filed a notice of formal charges against Judge John P. Contini of the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit for violating the Code of Judicial Conduct by sending an ex parte e-mail to the Broward Public Defenders Office, failing to seek a recusal or transfer when an appeal effectively froze his division, and making belittling remarks in open court about a pending matter. The JQC recommended that John Contini receive the sanction of a public reprimand plus a letter of apology, continued judicial mentoring, completion of a mental health program, and assessment of costs of these proceedings. The Supreme Court approved the JQC’s findings and recommendations of discipline, holding that the sanctions and conditions imposed were fitting and appropriate. View "In re Judge John Patrick Contini" on Justia Law

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In 2015, the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) filed a notice of formal changes against Judge John P. Contini of the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit for conduct in violation of the Canons of the Code of Judicial Conduct. The JQC did not recommend suspension or removal for the misconduct but, rather, reasoned that a public reprimand plus conditions was appropriate. The Supreme Court approved the JQC’s findings and recommendations of a public reprimand plus conditions, holding that, in light of Judge Contini’s actions, the relevant case law, and the mitigating factors, these sanctions and conditions were fitting and appropriate. View "Inquiry Concerning Judge John P. Contini" on Justia Law

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The Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) accused Thirteenth Judicial Circuit Judge Gregory Holder of engaging in improper conduct while presiding over a criminal case in violation of five canons of the Code of Judicial Conduct. Judge Holder entered into a factual stipulation with the JQC admitting the charges and accepting a public reprimand and six additional hours of Continuing Judicial Education (CJE) training hours on topics related to ethics. Based on the stipulation, the JQC concluded that Judge Holder violated Canons 1, 2A, 2B, 3B(7) and 3B(9) of the Code of Judicial Conduct. The Supreme Court (1) approved the stipulation entered into by Judge Holder and the JQC, holding that there was clear and convincing evidence to support the findings of fact as to all charges; and (2) approved the stipulated discipline of a public reprimand and completion of six additional CJE training hours. View "In re Inquiry Concerning Judge Gregory Holder" on Justia Law

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The Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) alleged that Seminole County Judge Jerri Collins violated Canons 1, 2A, and 3B(4) of the Code of Judicial Conduct in the course of presiding over a domestic violence case. Judge Collins accepted full responsibility for her wrongful conduct. The JQC and Judge Collins entered into a revised consent judgment imposing as sanctions on Judge Collins a public reprimand before the Supreme Court, the successful completion of an anger management course, and attendance at the domestic violence course offered during Phase II of the Florida Judicial College. The Supreme Court approved the revised consent judgment, holding that the JQC’s findings were supported by clear and convincing evidence and that the sanctions were appropriate. View "In re Inquiry Concerning Judge Jerri Collins" on Justia Law

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The Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) found County Court Judge John C. Murphy of the Eighteenth Judicial Circuit guilty of violating the Code of Judicial Conduct and the Rules of Professional Conduct. Judge Murphy’s misconduct included threatening to commit violence against an assistance public defender, engaging in physical altercation with council, and resuming his docket while defendants were without council. The JQC recommended that Judge Murphy be disciplined as follows: a public reprimand, a 120-suspension, a $50,000 fine, mental health therapy, and Judicial Education Courses. The Supreme Court rejected the JQC’s recommendation and instead removed Judge Murphy from office, concluding that, through his misconduct, Judge Murphy surrendered his privilege to serve in the state’s court system. View "Inquiry Concerning Judge John C. Murphy" on Justia Law

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The Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) instigated formal proceedings against circuit court Judge R. Timothy Shea for the judge's rude and intemperate behavior. After the Supreme Court disapproved the proposed sanction, the JQC withdrew its findings and recommendation of discipline and subsequently filed amended formal charges against Judge Shea. Based on facts set out in a second stipulation, the JQC filed a second findings and recommendation of discipline, determining that Judge Shea engaged in inappropriate behavior that was unbecoming a member of the judiciary. The JQC recommended that Judge Shea receive a public reprimand with the additional requirement that the judge send letters of apology to those individuals identified in the notice of amended formal charges and continue to obtain mental health treatment as recommended by his doctor and family therapist. The Supreme Court approved the JQC's findings and recommended discipline based on the severity of the judge's misconduct and the mitigating factors in his case. View "In re Shea" on Justia Law

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This case arose out alleged defamatory statements an attorney (Attorney) allegedly took in the course of investigating an underlying defamation action he was hired to defend. The legal issue was whether absolute immunity applied to Attorney's alleged defamatory statements, which were made during ex-parte, out-of-course questioning of a potential, nonparty witness. The court of appeal concluded that absolute immunity applied to Attorney's statements. The Supreme Court quashed the court of appeal's decision and held (1) Florida's absolute privilege was never intended to sweep so broadly as to provide absolute immunity from liability to an attorney under the circumstances presented here; and (2) a qualified privilege instead should apply to ex-parte, out-of-court statements, so long as the alleged defamatory statements bear some relation to the subject of inquiry in the underlying lawsuit. View "DelMonico v. Traynor" on Justia Law