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?