Florida Record

Saturday, February 22, 2020

State Supreme Court issues longer suspension for Florida judge over ethics violations

By Tabitha Fleming | Mar 27, 2017

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TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Supreme Court issued a longer-than-recommended suspension for a 3rd Judicial Circuit judge after reviewing alleged ethics violations that stemmed from 2012.

According to a report by Daily Business Review, Judge Andrew Decker was suspended for six months, publicly reprimanded and required to pay costs of the investigation that tracked alleged wrongdoing during his campaign for the bench.

Decker was one of several judges who were the focus of a probe by the House Public Integrity and Ethics Committee. Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran, a Republican from Land O’ Lakes, led the charge.

“I think that the speaker has made it clear that the focus on investigating and prosecuting and ensuring that there’s the highest ethical standards in the judiciary has nothing to do with outcomes and all to do with the people’s confidence in the system,” Frank Piccolo, Corcoran's director of communications, told the Florida Record.

The Judicial Qualifications Commission recommended in March 2015 that Decker be suspended for 90 days and reprimanded. Following that, the Supreme Court ordered Decker to show why he should not suffer consequences. Decker was found in violation of campaign restrictions placed on judicial candidates, and that he did not withdraw from a lawsuit despite a conflict of interest. The high court gave him a six-month suspension.

“All the violations established in this case demonstrate a pattern of poor judgment, and a lack of concern for jointly represented clients and for other counsel and their clients,” the Supreme Court wrote in its opinion, according to Daily Business Review.

However, the court also noted that the violations didn’t immediately harm anyone, thus the long suspension in lieu of removal from the bench.

The longer suspension and public reprimand may serve to restore public confidence in the judicial process, although Corcoran’s office claimed suspension alone isn’t always a harsh-enough punishment.

“The outcome of the individual cases is a concern in the sense that you don’t want a racist judge on the bench, which we had in another case,” Piccolo said. In those cases, in which the behaviors are racism or sexism, “you want to make sure the outcome is removal.”

What Corcoran wants to make clear is that the investigations into judicial conduct are not about rulings that may or may not have gone in favor for some people.

“These investigations are not about judicial outcomes in a sense that we don’t like the way the judges rule, so we’re going to get rid of them. That’s not what these are about,” Piccolo said.

Decker is not alone. Former Duval County Circuit Judge Mark Hulsey resigned the day before the public inquiry began.

The inquiry into wrongdoing by those held to the highest ethical standards will continue if Corcoran has his way, Piccolo said.

“We’re going to continue to pursue any and all ethical violations in the judiciary and will investigate claims of such as long as this speaker is speaker of the house,” he said.

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