Thursday, May 19, 2022

24 Hours A Day

The Florida Supreme Court imposed a 60-day suspension of a judge, finding misconduct in five of seven charged violations

The charges against Judge Hobbs stemmed in part from events relating to her adult son. In 2018, Judge Hobbs’s son was charged with misdemeanor DUI in Leon County, which is located within the Second Judicial Circuit. Judge Hobbs retained an attorney to represent her son. Shortly thereafter, Judge Hobbs assumed another judge’s docket, and on that docket were two cases where her son’s attorney was the attorney of record. When the cases and her son’s attorney appeared before her, Judge Hobbs did not recuse herself nor did she disclose her connection with the attorney. In one case, she granted an agreed motion for continuance. In the other, the parties announced they had agreed to enter a deferred prosecution agreement, and she set a new court date to ensure the agreement had been signed.

On the evening of July 29, 2019, Judge Hobbs’s son was arrested after allegedly shooting a person in his home. After learning of the arrest, Judge Hobbs went to the police station where her son was being held. Upon arrival, she asked to see her son but was told that only her son’s lawyer could meet with him. Judge Hobbs responded to this by saying that she was her son’s lawyer and was then permitted to enter the interrogation room where her son was being held. Judge Hobbs and her son had a nineteen-minute conversation which was unrecorded due to its privileged nature. Judge Hobbs also stayed with her son while he was interviewed by police, and at several points interjected to ask clarifying questions or to advise her son. At the end of the interview, Judge Hobbs asked the officers to release her son into her custody and expressed concerns about his safety because she had sentenced inmates in the same jail where he otherwise would be detained. The officers stated that it would be impossible to release her son into her custody due to the nature of the charges against him, but that they were aware of the potential safety issues.

After leaving the police station, Judge Hobbs contacted the attorney who represented her son in his DUI matter, and he agreed to represent him again. Although Judge Hobbs’s representation of her son ended at that point, Judge Hobbs’s legal assistant attended, and sat at counsel table during, his first appearance.

The judge when confronted took a leave of absence and did not counsel her judicial assistant

After the Chief Judge of the Second Judicial Circuit learned that Judge Hobbs’s son had been arrested, he contacted Judge Hobbs to arrange a meeting. During this meeting, Judge Hobbs explained that she had acted as her son’s attorney on the night of his arrest, and the Chief Judge advised her to report herself to the JQC, which she did on the same day. The Chief Judge also explained to Judge Hobbs that he had viewed the video recording of her son’s first appearance and directed her to counsel her judicial assistant regarding the appearance of impropriety created by her presence at counsel table. He also suggested that Judge Hobbs take some time off, and she agreed to do so.

The Chief Judge tried further counseling on her return

During the counseling session between the Chief Judge and the judicial assistant, the judicial assistant made a series of remarks, including that the Chief Judge was only “pretend[ing] to be sensitive to Judge Hobbs,” but then later “kick[ing] [her] in the butt.” The Chief Judge told Judge Hobbs that he believed her judicial assistant’s conduct during the meeting was grounds for termination. Judge Hobbs declined to terminate her judicial assistant but did counsel her on her conduct during the meeting.

Notwithstanding the admonition

On October 3, Judge Hobbs’s son, who was out on bail, came to Judge Hobbs’s office looking for his grandfather’s health insurance papers. Judge Hobbs’s son stated that he believed the papers were in Judge Hobbs’s office, which was in a secure part of the building. The judicial assistant then gave her all-access security badge to Judge Hobbs’s son, who used the private elevator to access the restricted area, where he encountered an “unnerved” clerk who reported the incident.

The court

Context is crucial for these charges. The evidence was both clear and convincing that Judge Hobbs’s judicial assistant used her position of trust to preferentially promote the individual interests of the judge’s family and did not appear to understand that her duty and our ethical rules required that she neither attempt to influence the outcome of the criminal charges pending against the judge’s son nor grant a privilege or courtesy to him that would not be equally extended to any other criminal defendant. Judge Hobbs knew of the serious ethical breach by her judicial assistant and took no steps to counsel her, even after being directed by her chief judge to do so.

The court sustained a number of charges but

In urging us to impose a harsher sanction than the Hearing Panel’s recommended discipline, the JQC suggests that Judge Hobbs’s misconduct demonstrates unfitness to hold judicial office that warrants removal. We disagree.

Also but

However, we do agree with the JQC that the recommended discipline is insufficient. Although we are not unsympathetic to Judge Hobbs’s family situation, her violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct demonstrate a failure of judgment and a lack of appropriate boundaries between her judicial office and her personal life that cannot be tolerated in members of our judiciary. See In re Frank, 753 So. 2d 1228, 1241 (Fla. 2000) (“[A] ‘judge is a judge 7 days a week, 24 hours a day.’ ” (quoting JQC’s findings)).

The court imposed a $30,000 fine in addition to the proposed suspension. (Mike Frisch)

Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink


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