TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA – The Florida Supreme Court rejected a request to investigate
allegations of racism involving a Duval County circuit judge.
The court said it would not open an investigation into
Circuit Court Judge Mark Hulsey because one is already underway by the Florida
Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC). The motion was filed by
attorney Martin McClain as part of a case involving his client, Terrance
Phillips, an African-American, is on death row and was
sentenced in 2012 by McClain.
Court filings cite the ongoing JQC investigation as the reason the motion was denied, but court officials would not go into greater detail. The decision was handed down in late September.
“The court does not comment about pending cases outside of
the orders it has issued,” the court's public information officer, Craig Waters, told the Florida Record.
In a complaint filed to the JQC in July, Assistant General Counsel
Alexander Williams said Hulsey was accused of saying sexist and racist remarks
to some of his staffers. One of the comments, allegedly made in 2011, referred
to African-Americans getting “back on a ship” and “going back to Africa,” the
McClain filed his motion in August as part of his client's appeals case, saying if the remarks were said by Hulsey, his prejudices could have had a negative impact on Phillips' case.
Hulsey has publicly denied the allegations.
“These false allegations have been a poorly kept secret
hanging over me like a cloud for months,” Hulsey said in a statement in July. “I
am pleased the JQC has concluded its initial investigation, and that I will now
have an opportunity to respond to them in a public forum.”
The JQC moved forward with its investigation of the remarks, and is
expected to convene in February for a hearing. The commission is
charged with investigating potential misconduct, and issuing discipline or
removal of Florida judges from the bench if they're found negligible.
The court ruled that the JQC's investigation trumped the motion brought my McClain. In a motion filed in August, Attorney General Pam Bondi’s
office called McClain’s request a “fishing expedition.”
“There is no need to relinquish jurisdiction to ‘get the
facts’ in this case, as this is already being done by the JQC,” Assistant
Attorney General Berdene Beckles said in the motion.
McClain said at the time Hulsey allegedly made those
comments, Phillips’ case was in front of him. Phillips was tried and convicted
of murder in 2012 and sentenced to death.
McClain told the Florida Record that he took up Phillips' appeal in 2014. When allegations
about Hulsey’s comments started to surface, McClain believe those had a direct
impact on Phillips’ sentence and wanted to make a formal motion to address any
“A biased judge certainly is bad when it comes to the sentence
that’s imposed,” he said.
He said it’s disturbing to hear reports that a judge is
making negative comments about women and minorities when the judge is sworn to
uphold justice for all.
“I think we all should be troubled,” he said, adding that
there’s a documented history of reported racism in Duval County. “There seems
to be a racial component appearing in who's being sentenced to death there.”