Florida Supreme Court denies motion to investigate racism allegations against judge

By Kate Jacobson | Oct 13, 2016

TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA – The Florida Supreme Court rejected a request to investigate allegations of racism involving a Duval County circuit judge.

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.

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 Duval County Courthouse   Fourth Judicial Circuit of Florida

“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 complaint says.

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 potential biases.

“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.”

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