Thursday, July 7, 2022

"Have To Have The Jail Re-Named After [Defendant]"

A judge's handling of a difficult defendant drew a proposed 60 day suspension without pay and reprimand from the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission

As this Court has repeatedly instructed: Unprofessional conduct by a lawyer or litigant does not justify or excuse inappropriate conduct by a judge.


In this instance, the Court was admonishing the litigant to refrain from interrupting the petitioner. Judge Culver told the respondent that the Court's words were "the most important words you'll ever hear as long as you live as an organism on this planet." The Court followed that up by telling the pro-se respondent that if he continued to interrupt the petitioner, the judge would send him to jail for so long that the litigant would "have to have the jail re-named after [him]". The Commission finds that Judge Culver's decision to use sarcasm and mockery to communicate with the pro-se litigant was, itself, inappropriate and violative of the Code of Judicial Conduct. While Judge Culver explained that in making those comments he was trying to grab the litigant's attention, the Commission believes, and Judge Culver now agrees, that rather than de-escalate and restore order to the proceeding, the judge's sarcastic and undignified comments served to raise the level of tension in the courtroom.


Later during the hearing, when the Court does actually find the litigant in direct criminal contempt, Judge Culver failed to provide even the minimum of due process required to the respondent, by failing to conduct the legally required colloquy. He also failed to enter a signed judgment of guilt with the required findings as required by the Rules of Criminal Procedure, failed to advise the litigant of his right to appeal, and unlawfully imposed three consecutive contempt sentences totaling 537 days in jail. Shortly after imposing the sentences, Judge Culver modified the sentences to three concurrent contempt sentences totaling 179 days in jail. Subsequently, on May 12, 2022, Judge Culver vacated the contempt order, and set aside the three criminal contempt convictions and all related sentences.

The judge stipulated to the misconduct. (Mike Frisch)

Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink


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