Articles Posted in Legal Ethics

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The Supreme Court approved the stipulation entered into between Judge Deborah White-Labora, a judge of the Miami-Dade County Court, and the Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) to the JQC’s finding that Judge White-Labora’s misconduct violated two canons of the Code of Judicial Conduct and approved the stipulated discipline of a public reprimand, holding that there was clear and convincing evidence to support the findings of fact for the charges. The JQC alleged that Judge White-Labora improperly provided a character reference letter on her official court stationary on behalf of a criminal defendant awaiting sentencing in federal court. The Supreme Court approved the stipulation to the allegation and concluded that the judge violated Canons 1 and 2 by engaging in such conduct. The Court then held that, under precedent, Judge White-Labora’s conduct warranted a public reprimand. View "Inquiry Concerning Judge Deborah White-Labora" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court approved the decision of the Third District Court of Appeal ruling that the existence of a Facebook “friendship” was not a sufficient basis to disqualify a trial court judge, holding that the existence of a Facebook “friendship” was not a sufficient basis for disqualification. A law office and attorney petitioned the Third District for a writ of prohibition to disqualify the trial court judge in the underlying case based on the fact that an attorney appearing before the trial judge was listed as a “friend” on the trial judge’s personal Facebook page. The Third District denied the petition for writ of prohibition, ruling that an allegation that a trial judge is a Facebook “friend” with an attorney appearing before the judge, standing alone, does not constitute a legally sufficient basis for disqualification. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that where Facebook “friendships” regularly involve strangers, there was no reason that this particular relationship should be singled out and subjected to a per se rule of disqualification. View "Law Offices of Herssein and Herssein, P.A. v. United Services Automobile Ass’n" on Justia Law

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For the reasons discussed in this opinion, by a prior order, Dana Marie Santino was removed from office on the grounds that Santino’s conduct “does not evidence a present fitness to hold judicial office.” On July 2, 2018, the Supreme Court issued an order removing Santino from the office of county judge of Palm Beach County, Florida. Here, the Court provided an opinion explaining the reasons for removal. The Judicial Qualifications Commission hearing panel concluded that Santino violated Judicial Canons 7A(3)(a), (3)(b), (3)(c), (e)(i), and (e)(ii) and Rule 4-8.2(a) and (b) of the Rules of Professional Conduct for making false and misleading statements about her opponent, Gregg Lerman, in e-mail advertisements and on social media during her 2016 election campaign and recommended that she be removed from office. The Supreme Court held that Santino’s campaign misconduct warranted removal under these facts. View "Inquiry Concerning Judge Dana Marie Santino" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court concluded that Judge Scott C. DuPont of the Seventh Judicial Circuit violated the Code of Judicial Conduct and that those violations warranted the most severe sanction of removal from office. The Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) recommended that DuPont be removed from office by disseminating false and misleading information during his judicial campaign and conducting an unlawful judicially ordered seizure in open court. The Supreme Court approved the JQC’s recommendation of removal and removed Judge DuPont from office, holding that Judge DuPont demonstrated a present unfitness to hold office. View "Inquiry Concerning Judge Scott C. DuPont" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court approved the findings of the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) that Judge Philip James Yacucci, Jr., a county court judge in the Nineteenth Judicial Circuit, violated Canons 1, 2A, 3B(8), 3B(8) and 3(E)(1) of the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct. The court also approved the JQC’s recommended discipline of a public reprimand, a thirty-day suspension without pay, completion of a judicial ethics course within one year, and payment of the costs of the JQC proceedings. Before the court, Judge Yacucci disputed only the recommendation of a thirty-day suspension. The Supreme Court concluded that, in light of Judge Yacucci’s conduct, suspension was an appropriate sanction. View "Inquiry Concerning Judge Philip James Yacucci, Jr." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court denied the petition for a writ of quo warranto filed by Petitioner, the state attorney for Florida’s Ninth Judicial Circuit, challenging Governor Rick Scott’s authority to reassign the prosecution of death penalty eligible cases in the Ninth Circuit to the state attorney for Florida’s Fifth Judicial Circuit. The Governor reassigned the prosecution of death penalty eligible cases pending in the Ninth Circuit after Petitioner announced her intent to implement a blanket policy of not seeking the death penalty in any eligible case. The Supreme Court held that the Governor did not abuse his discretion in reassigning the cases at issue to the state attorney for Florida’s Fifth Judicial Circuit pursuant to Fla. Stat. 27.14. View "Ayala v. Scott" on Justia Law

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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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