Thursday, May 27, 2021
A losing candidate for judicial office has been reprimanded by the Florida Supreme Court.
The Bar’s complaint pertained to Respondent’s conduct in running for Marion County Judge against incumbent Judge Robert E. Landt in the August 28, 2018, primary election. Specifically, it was alleged that Respondent attempted to impugn Judge Landt’s integrity, citing his record in criminal cases presided over, while repeatedly implying that Respondent was biased in favor of state prosecutors and law enforcement.
With a warning
However, we write to place future candidates for judicial office on notice that this Court takes misrepresentations that cast a sitting judge in a false light seriously because of their potential to undermine confidence in the rule of law. With respect to candidates who have won judicial elections using similar misrepresentations, and related campaign-related misconduct, we have removed the newly elected judges from office. See, e.g., In re Santino, 257 So. 3d 25 (Fla. 2018); In re Renke, 933 So. 2d 482 (Fla. 2006); In re McMillan, 797 So. 2d 560 (Fla. 2001). Accordingly, in the future, similar misconduct presented in the posture of this type of case should be expected to result in a more severe sanction, including suspension.
There were dissents
CANADY, C.J., dissenting. Because I conclude that a reprimand is an insufficient sanction for Respondent’s misconduct, I would reject the stipulation. In my view—based on the stipulated facts—a nonrehabilitative suspension would be appropriate in this case.
LABARGA, J., dissenting. I concur with the majority that the referee’s findings are sufficient to support Respondent’s culpability for violating numerous Rules Regulating the Florida Bar and several sections of Canon 7 of the Code of Judicial Conduct. However, I disagree with the majority that the referee’s recommended discipline—a public reprimand via publication of the majority opinion—is an adequate sanction for Respondent’s egregious conduct during a judicial campaign. I therefore respectfully dissent.
Quoting the referee
The evidence presented was clear and convincing to establish that respondent expressly and intentionally implied that the incumbent judge favored criminals, disfavored law enforcement, disfavored the state attorney, and that he, as a candidate, would do differently.
The need for a strong response
Unfortunately, in situations such as in Santino where the candidate who utilizes the “win-at-all-costs-and-pay-the-fine-later” tactics actually wins the election, a lengthy suspension, even without pay, may be viewed as worth the prize of a guaranteed commission for a six-year term in office.
...Here, because Respondent did not take office, the question of removal or suspension from office is not an issue. The only question is the appropriate Bar discipline to be imposed. Given the similarities of Respondent’s actions to those in Santino, his Bar discipline should be a suspension from the practice of law for at least sixty days, in addition to a public reprimand to be administered by The Florida Bar.