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Judge who took Rays tickets from law firm quits bench

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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.”

Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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