Thursday, November 14, 2019

Gavel Down, Ill Feelings Up

The Florida Supreme Court will publicly reprimand a judge

This case stems from Judge Lemonidis’s conduct in two incidents that occurred in proceedings related to two different matters: State v. Francis, 052016CF012745AXXXXX, and State v. Welch, 052000CF044961AXXXXX.

The first incident occurred during the Francis trial. In response to defense counsel’s violation of courtroom rules—specifically, his failure to “address[] all participants by their surname[s]”—Judge Lemonidis employed an “adversarial tone and demeanor when” speaking to “the defendant and his attorney.” On at least five separate occasions, “Judge Lemonidis repeatedly and loudly struck her gavel” while admonishing defense counsel for using only the defendant’s first name. Early in the proceedings, Judge Lemonidis was warned that a juror had been overheard “commenting about [her] treatment of the defense counsel.” But she continued to reprimand defense counsel in full view of the jury, often using “facial expressions and a tone of voice” that indicated her frustration. Judge Lemonidis behaved similarly in her interactions with witnesses and others involved in the proceedings, “at times appearing openly annoyed . . . by the person she was addressing.”

The second incident occurred as “Judge Lemonidis presided over a retrial of the penalty phase” in Welch. The defendant had previously pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder, for which the State sought the death penalty. When the jury declined to recommend the death penalty, Judge Lemonidis held a sentencing hearing.

During the hearing, Judge Lemonidis listened to impact statements from the victims’ family members before “impos[ing] the legally required life sentences.” Judge Lemonidis made the following remarks during the sentencing colloquy:

And uh sir, I cannot disagree with a single thing that [the victim’s family member] said and I’m glad she said it.
. . . .
[Other impact speakers] are far more gracious soul[s] than a person like you deserves. And that is something you’re going to get to ponder for the rest of your miserable life. There is a Chinese proverb, do good, reap good, do evil, reap evil—which section will you sit in sir? There’s no doubt in my mind. And I tend to agree that  the outcome might have been different had this been three years ago. . . .
. . . .
I hope you see the [victims’] faces on every single face you see. You have—The collateral damage that you have caused, sir, is immeasurable and your life is—is not worthy of what you have done to these people. I do hope you do fight for your life every minute of every day. And that would be the only reason that I would hope your life is any longer than six weeks.

The judge stipulated to Canon violations

we are particularly concerned by “Judge Lemonidis’[s] failure to exercise self-control” during the Francis trial after she was informed that a juror had commented on her perceived dislike of defense counsel. Such an allegation should have made Judge Lemonidis aware of the need to “regulat[e] her own conduct” to preserve the appearance of impartiality. We further agree that Judge Lemonidis’s comments during the Welch sentencing hearing—especially those articulating a desire to see the defendant “fight for [his] life” or die within the next six weeks—compromised the integrity of the judiciary. As observed by the JQC, “it is essential” that judges refrain from “degrad[ing] the solemnity of proceedings by casting insults and abuse upon litigants.”

In Florida, the public reprimand requires a personal appearance before the Court

at a time to be established by the Clerk of this Court.

(Mike Frisch)

Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink


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