(caption and photograph courtesy of Laura Chukwuma)
The jury has found Cindy Imperato guilty as charged in WPB at 3:07 pm …
We’re told the jury started day two of deliberations a few minutes ago, at roughly 2:25 p.m. Most of the day was taken up by readbacks.
This one is a real nail biter. Take a stiff drink to steady your nerves, if you’re so inclined, as Cindy Imperato’s freedom and career must be flashing before her eyes while awaiting the jury’s decision …
2014-50-Gen – click the link for Friday’s AO assigning judges. It should post online Monday. All changes were predicted, except the civil rotation. Tuter takes over Streitfeld, Murphy goes to Tuter, and Imperato takes over Murphy. Rosenthal gets Imperato’s foreclosures division, D. Bailey gets Feren’s family duties, Schulman takes Merrigan’s dependency, Merrigan gets Rosenthal’s old criminal division, which Levenson has been covering since Feig-Rosenthal got busted, Gold goes to Grossman probate, and Contini takes over Gold criminal. C. Robinson has Richards’ position in south satellite. Rumor has it there will be more changes after the February CJ election, if Weinstein wins …
Trial! – Cindy Imperato stares down a Christmas jury this week, unless a last minute deal has been struck …
Credit where credit is due - it took a lot of guts for Peter Weinstein to apologize to Nadine Girault Levy, the Chief Assistant Public Defender who has been battling Jay Hurley over the right to representation for defendants accused of municipal ordinances. According to Nadine, it happened Tuesday, shortly after Weinstein sent his email to the judges blasting Finkelstein for the clown house comments. The chief judge asked to speak to her, and offered an apology on behalf of himself and all the judges for the way she was treated when things got heated a few weeks ago in First Appearances court. Weinstein also mentioned he hoped Hurley would offer a mea culpa as well, but Nadine’s not holding her breath. In any event, check out Bob Norman’s report for all the updates on the municipal ordinances issue, where public exposure once again seems to have gotten the job done …
Coming Soon – More tough talk at Judges’ Night 2014 …
Circuit Criminal Division Meeting - Peter Weinstein addressed the North Wing judges today, and from what we’re hearing, he’s rattled. Having to deal with the most recent barrage of bad publicity, concurrent with a challenge for the chief judge’s docket-free throne, seems to have him a little out of sorts.
Apparently there was talk of possibly involving the local and State Bars to try to curb Howard Finkelstein’s three ringed criticisms of the 17th Circuit’s performance under Weinstein’s leadership, which is awfully confusing,* seeing as how neither body has any authority over the Public Defender. In fact, the Broward Bar has no authority over anyone, let alone an elected official, who answers only to the Governor.
The State Commission on Ethics deals with complaints about misconduct by some elected officials. The Florida Bar does not have jurisdiction to discipline lawyers who occupy constitutionally created positions including judges. The (JQC) investigates allegations of misconduct by judges. The conduct of State Attorneys and elected Public Defenders is overseen by the Governor of Florida.
And from Florida Bar Assistant Director Public Information Zannah Lyle:
In reference to your question about whether The Florida Bar has the authority to investigate elected public officials, the answer is no.
Even if either body could go after Finkelstein for exercising his free speech rights, would it be wise to do so? Of course not. Long time readers will remember large ink spills when the local and State Bars went after JAABLOG, only to end up looking silly. Imagine how much greater the coverage would be if a local celebrity like the Public Defender was the target? Additionally, there’s no love lost between the general public and the perennially leader-less Broward judges, who have relentlessly disappointed and embarrassed the community as long as anyone can remember. The bottom line is Weinstein would be foolish to let this go any further than the letters to the editor column of the DBR, and even then, the chief judge shouldn’t copy the entire judiciary when somebody says something nice about him.
We’re told there was also some discussion relating to the Get to Work! AO at today’s gathering, in advance of the statewide Chief Judges meeting which closes out the week. Believe it or not, judges were told to make themselves something akin to visible, interpreted by more than one observer as a suggestion for judges to work in court instead of their offices after public duties have concluded for the day. Granted, this audience was full of hard-working circuit criminal judges, but we’re told the impression was given that face time is now an overriding concern, while terms like work harder, and diligence were never used. Let’s hope the message is much different for judges in other divisions, particularly those with a reputation for being bone idle. In the meantime, we’ll have to step up our attendance-taking JAABWALKS, just to make sure the Get to Work! AO is being taken seriously …
(* The Bar talk was also confusing due to the fact Weinstein was observed being extra nice to Finkelstein yesterday, the same day he sent the email to judges complaining about the DBR clown comments)
Mike Lynch for Judge! - the younger Lynch makes it official, filing for the retiring Jack Luzzo’s circuit seat. The paperwork should post Thursday. Congrats!
Movement update - Marc Gold is indeed going to Probate, departing Criminal mid-January. Cindy Imperato’s promotion to Civil may be on hold though, pending the outcome of her DUI trial in Palm Beach next week. We’re told some judges are mighty upset that Imperato may end up with a coveted assignment basically due to being arrested, which could cost Weinstein some votes come February, making it a wait and see. There’s also some talk of Jack Tuter taking over for Streitfeld, but that would still leave a nice Civil slot open. Ongoing …
Coming Soon – Where are Grossman & Feren, and did they have anything to do with the issuance of the Get to Work! AO?; Somebody should tell Peter Weinstein that Ian Richards didn’t actually retire; A tale of a media savvy PD, a media savvy Blog, and a Luddite CJ; Your tax dollars at work – senior judge payouts!
Peter Weinstein sent the following email to all judges Tuesday afternoon. He seems to have taken great offense at Howard Finkelstein’s comments to the DBR relating to the new AO, although Weinstein attended a meeting with the Public Defender at roughly the same time judges discovered the chief judge’s missive in their inboxes, described by sources as being “conciliatory and cordial” to Finkelstein. Oh well, it is an election season for the embattled Weinstein, who may be reacting to criticism that he takes too many punches instead of throwing them on behalf of his badly bloodied judiciary. Oddly enough, most of the judges we’ve spoken to believe the email backfired, making Weinstein appear overly defensive and, as usual, slow to react, and may have ultimately cost him votes come February. From our perspective, he’s also opened a can of worms, since we’re now obligated to ask Dave Simmons, Jorge Labarga, and others a lot of tough questions to clarify some of the strong assertions Weinstein makes in the email regarding the genesis of the ground-breaking and historic AO that seem to conflict everything we’ve learned thus far. And the beat goes on …
Email signed by Peter M. Weinstein:
I am writing in response to the article entitled “Chief Justice’s Order Says Buck Stops at Chief Circuit Judges.” The article contains statements by Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein wherein he describes Broward judges as “misfits” and the Broward court as a “clown house.” These comments are not only offensive and highly unprofessional but simply untrue. Mr. Finkelstein’s statement that the Supreme Court’s recent Administrative Order entitled “Diligent Performance of Judicial Duties” was issued because the Supreme Court is unhappy with Broward judges is a complete misstatement of the facts. The Administrative Order does nothing more than reiterate what is already the law and as spokesman for the Supreme Court Craig Waters states, was issued to simply remind the judges throughout the state of their ethical duties. As a member of the bar for over forty years and completing my seventeenth year as a judge, I am disturbed by an elected official such as Mr. Finkelstein making such comments. As a young attorney, I always aspired to become a judge and am proud of the service I and my colleagues are providing to the people of Broward County. Every single day people appear in our courtrooms to have a multitude of problems adjudicated by our judges. As I said in the statement I issued in reference to the problems encountered by three of our judges, the judges in Broward County “are hardworking, conscientious, and do not condone in any fashion any sort of impairment or substance abuse that would prevent their handling of each case that comes before them with the utmost care, consideration, and attention that every case deserves. We recognize that judges make serious decisions affecting people’s lives each day they are in court and that with that weighty responsibility comes a duty to be fully accountable.” I stand by that statement today as I did then.
The DBR’s John Pacenti picked up the story of the recently issued Supreme Court Administrative Order 14-66 (IN RE: DILIGENT PERFORMANCE OF JUDICIAL DUTIES), which gives Florida chief judges the authority and obligation to ensure your judges are performing admirably. It’s a good article, with some great quotes from people like Howard Finkelstein, who compares the Broward courthouse to a “clown house“. You can read it here. One thing Pacenti is missing though is some of the back story which led up to the issuance of the AO, which follows.
Rumors had been swirling for quite some time before the Order came out about a possible Senate investigation into Broward’s ever troubled judiciary. Along those lines we contacted Dave Simmons a few weeks ago, a Senator representing Seminole and part of Volusia counties, and a member of the Judiciary Committee. Simmons was able to confirm that there was talk of holding public hearings in order to “shine the light of truth” on the troubled 17th Judicial Circuit, and that concerns went far beyond the national headlines regarding the infamous DUI judges, specifically judges hardly working (or not working at all). During the conversation we also mentioned frustration with chief judges not being willing or able to compel judges to do the right thing, and the need for civility panels for judges like the ones that apply to lawyers, before wishing the Senator a good day.
Then, on November 24th, we sent an email to Craig Waters, public information officer for the Supreme Court, who was heavily featured in Pacenti’s article.
From the email titled “SENATE INQUIRY RE JUDICIARY“:
(JAABLOG’S) writing to ask if the justices are aware of Senator Dave Simmons gathering information for a possible Senate investigation or hearings regarding the Broward judiciary, or the Florida judiciary in general. Concerns would include arrests of judges, not working hard, and other ethical issues … Please advise as soon as you can … All (we) really need to know is if the Supreme Court is aware of it, and if they approve, or propose alternative methods to control or correct some of the problems plaguing our judiciary.
Waters’ response from the same day:
… the Court is very much aware of news reports alleging misconduct by judges. We cannot comment at this time because of the possibility that these charges will be brought before the Court in JQC proceedings.
And our follow-up, which Waters never answered, along with our subsequent phone calls:
Thanks Craig, but to clarify, you are saying the Court is aware of Senator Simmons activities regarding a potential Senate inquiry or public hearings?
Then, suddenly, after nothing but the chirping of crickets, the AO was issued December 1st.
Is there some connection between Simmons’ behind the scenes sabre rattling, and the issuance of the AO shortly after our conversation with the Senator and emails to the Supreme Court? That’s what we asked Simmons earlier today, who confirmed he didn’t know an AO was in the works when we first spoke. Additionally, Simmons said Senate hearings are no longer being discussed, due to satisfaction with the strongly worded Order, which places an ethical obligation on CJ’s everywhere to make sure judges are getting the job done.
“I really believe judges will do what they need to do, which is police themselves”, Simmons said, “and if they don’t, we’ll look at it again.”
So there you have it. Whether or not the preceding events are related is anybody’s guess, although the timing seems to confirm the Supreme Court is once again stepping up to the plate to correct the latest Broward County embarrassments. Both Simmons and the Supreme Court deserve thanks, while we look forward to clarification of the scope of chief judges’ new obligations following this week’s statewide Chief Judges Meeting, where you can bet the Order will be a hot topic of discussion …
Movement? – Imperato to Streitfeld Civil; D. Bailey to Feren Family; Contini to Gold Criminal, if Gold decides to go to Grossman Probate; Merrigan to Rosenthal Criminal (currently covered by Levenson); Rosenthal stays in Foreclosures (at least until February CJ election); Schulman to Merrigan Dependency; C. Robinson to South Satellite Richards …
Coming Soon – Where’s Bobby Diaz?; Mike Mayo thinks it’s time for action too; Who’s minding the Satellites?; Dosage probation update; Can a CJ without a division expect other judges to work hard?; Who is Chip Diamond?
Rick Scott will pick Gary Cowart’s replacement from the following JNC aproved candidates:
Donald Gelin, Ernest Kollra, Thomas Oates, Abbe Rifkin, Richard Sachs, Steve Zaccor.
The chief judge in each circuit shall separately communicate to all trial court judges in that circuit the importance of a professional work ethic and accountability to the judiciary as a full-time commitment under the Code and the Constitution of Florida. This commitment includes the responsibility set forth in Canon 3C(1) requiring that a judge “should cooperate with other judges and court officials in the administration of court business.” Where a judge’s calendar allows, each judge should cooperate with other judges to assure that all cases and matters are handled as efficiently and expeditiously as possible. In addition, each chief judge shall take all administrative actions necessary to monitor the work of each judge of the circuit to ensure that appropriate action is taken in any case where a judge neglects his or her duties.
Coming Soon – Senate Investigation of Broward Judges? …