Judicial panel recommends judge’s suspension for impairment

A Florida judicial panel is recommending that a Miami-Dade County judge be suspended from the bench because of evidence she was impaired at a restaurant and at work.

The Judicial Qualifications Commission panel made the recommendation Monday pending the outcome of Judge Jacqueline Schwartz‘s case. The Florida Supreme Court must decide whether to approve the recommendation.

An investigation found that Schwartz appeared to be impaired on March 18 at a Coconut Grove restaurant, where witnesses said she berated waiters and called police “pigs.” The probe also found on March 28 Schwartz was impaired on the bench to the point where her bailiff had to drive her home.

Schwartz attributed her behavior to a new prescription medication, not alcohol.

Schwartz was previously suspended and fined $10,000 for swearing at a store clerk.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Judge who took Rays tickets from law firm quits bench

The Bradenton trial judge who accepted baseball tickets from a law firm representing a woman whose personal injury case he was presiding over has resigned from the bench.

Lakin
Lakin

Circuit Judge John F. Lakin resigned Monday from the 12th Judicial Circuit. It serves DeSoto, Manatee and Sarasota counties. The news was first reported Thursday by Law360.

Lakin, elected in 2012, was facing a judicial conduct inquiry by the state’s Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC), which said he demonstrated “a present unfitness to serve.” Because he quit, the state dismissed the case.

In an answer to the charges filed Feb. 5, Lakin admitted what he did, but apologized and said he “had no wrongful intent.”

“As a relatively new judge, he was not as familiar with the (rules of judicial conduct) as he could have been,” his answer said. Lakin is a former legal analyst for Court TV and MSNBC and a past “Florida Super Lawyer.”

He thought he would just list the tickets on his yearly financial disclosure form and “did not appreciate that his use of the tickets would adversely reflect on the judiciary and the administration of justice.”

The JQC said Lakin called the plaintiff’s law firm and asked for tickets for a Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox game a day after the verdict in the case. A jury had found Walmart not responsible for the woman’s injuries.

“Despite the fact that the case was not yet final, and you expected that there would be post-trial motions requiring your adjudication, you failed to advise Walmart’s counsel of your contact with the Plaintiff’s law firm,” the report said.

The lawyers later asked for the verdict to be set aside and for a new trial. Lakin considered the motion but did not immediately rule on it, according to the JQC report.

He did ask for and got more baseball tickets from the firm, it added. Afterward, Lakin set aside the jury’s verdict and granted a new trial.

“Your extraordinary action allowed the Plaintiff a second opportunity to seek damages from Walmart,” the JQC report said. “You have acknowledged that during your tenure on the bench you have never before overturned a jury verdict.”

In all, he asked for and got five tickets to four separate Major League Baseball games, “all while the case was pending, and without ever disclosing this fact to the counsel for Walmart,” the report said.

“The tickets you received were excellent seats, being located seven to eight rows back, between home plate and first base,” it added. “They each had a face value of approximately $100.”

Judicial conduct panel charges Bradenton judge over Rays baseball tickets

A Bradenton trial judge was charged Monday with accepting baseball tickets from a law firm representing a woman whose personal injury case he was presiding over.

Circuit Judge John F. Lakin was accused of violating the state’s Code of Judicial Conduct by the Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC), which said he demonstrated “a present unfitness to serve.” The JQC investigates allegations of judicial misconduct.

Lakin called Kallins, Little & Delgado, the plaintiff’s law firm, and asked for tickets for a Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox game a day after the verdict in the case, the JQC report said. A jury had found Walmart not responsible for the woman’s injuries.

“Despite the fact that the case was not yet final, and you expected that there would be post-trial motions requiring your adjudication, you failed to advise Walmart’s counsel of your contact with the Plaintiff’s law firm,” the report said.

The lawyers later asked for the verdict to be set aside and for a new trial. Lakin considered the motion but did not immediately rule on it, according to the report.

He did ask for and got more baseball tickets from the firm, it added. Afterward, Lakin set aside the jury’s verdict and granted a new trial.

“Your extraordinary action allowed the Plaintiff a second opportunity to seek damages from Walmart,” the JQC report said. “You have acknowledged that during your tenure on the bench you have never before overturned a jury verdict.”

He was elected in 2012 to the 12th Judicial Circuit that serves DeSoto, Manatee and Sarasota counties.

“In total, you requested and received five tickets to four separate Major League Baseball games from the Plaintiff’s attorneys, all while the case was pending, and without ever disclosing this fact to the counsel for Walmart,” the report said.

“The tickets you received were excellent seats, being located seven to eight rows back, between home plate and first base,” it added. “They each had a face value of approximately $100.”

Lakin, a former legal analyst for Court TV and MSNBC and a past “Florida Super Lawyer,” has not yet responded to the report, court dockets show.

Judicial campaign conduct forums scheduled May 6-7

When it comes to elections, judgeships are never “politics as usual.” Thanks to a special set of ethics rules called Canon 7 of Florida’s Code of Judicial Conduct, candidates for judicial office must abide by the strictest standards imposed in any type of election.

As candidates are reminded by Chief Justice Peggy A. Quince, “Public respect and confidence are so essential to a judge’s role that they are woven into the selection of judges through the electoral process. The Florida Supreme Court has adopted rules that govern judicial elections and prohibit conduct that would undercut public confidence in our justice system. Together with the Judicial Qualifications Commission and The Florida Bar, we vigorously enforce these rules.”

The standards governing judicial elections will be explained to candidates, campaign managers, the news media, and others in a series of forums designed to raise awareness of Canon 7. The forums are being organized by the Florida Supreme Court and The Florida Bar Board of Governors in conjunction with the Court’s Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee and the state’s trial court chief judges. The ninety-minute forums are scheduled at 1:00 p.m. local time (with four exceptions noted below), Thursday and Friday, May 6 – 7, in all circuits in which there will be contested judicial elections. Forums in the First, Third, and Fifteenth Circuits are scheduled for 1:30 p.m. local time. The forum in the Eighth Circuit is scheduled for 9 a.m. local time.

Chief judges will open the forums with brief remarks stressing the nonpartisan character of judicial races, then present a videotaped introduction by the Chief Justice. Representatives of The Florida Bar’s Board of Governors will speak briefly regarding the Bar’s role in judicial elections. Florida’s Division of Elections has prepared helpful information about Florida’s election laws which will also be presented. Members of the Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee will then provide a summary review of Canon 7, call attention to informational resources, and further impress upon candidates, campaign staff, and others in the community the seriousness with which the Supreme Court views any abuse of the election process.

The Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee is charged with rendering advisory opinions interpreting the application of the Code of Judicial Conduct to specific circumstances confronting or affecting judges and judicial candidates. The committee’s elections booklet, “An Aid to Understanding Canon 7,” will be distributed at all forums, first to candidates and campaign managers, then to others as available. An online version of the Canon 7 booklet may be accessed on the Supreme Court’s website at www.floridasupremecourt.org, by first selecting Public Information, then, under Court Documents, scrolling down to Judicial Conduct.

All judicial candidates, including those who may anticipate running for potential new judgeships, and their campaign managers are encouraged to attend the forums in their respective circuits. Invitations have also been extended to local bar association presidents, state and county political party chairs, and the media. All forums are open to the public.

Sixth –Pasco and Pinellas Counties
Thursday, May 6
Criminal Justice Center
First Floor Conference Room
14250 49th Street North

Thirteenth –Hillsborough County
Friday, May 7
Edgecomb Courthouse
800 E. Twiggs Street
Judicial Conference Room, 6th Floor
Tampa, FL 33602
Clearwater, FL