TALLAHASSEE -- The Florida Supreme Court has approved punitive measures against Judge Philip James Yacucci Jr., accused of violating the Code of Judicial Conduct when making rulings in cases involving a former political rival, DUI attorney Stephen Smith.
The Florida Supreme Court approved the findings of the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC), which was tasked with determining if Yacucci, violated canons 1, 2A, 3B(8), 3B(9), and 3(E)(1) of the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct. The JQC recommended: (1) a public reprimand, (2) a 30-day suspension without pay, (3) completion of a judicial ethics course within one year, and (4) payment of the costs of the JQC proceedings.
The state supreme court noted in its opinion filed Nov. 2, “We have jurisdiction. See art. V, § 12, Fla. Const. For the reasons that follow, we approve the JQC’s findings and recommended discipline.”
Yacucci, a county court judge in the 19th Judicial Circuit since 2002, was accused of being unable to remain impartial when hearing Smith’s cases.
According to the Palm Beach Post, “Smith unsuccessfully challenged Yacucci’s bid for re-election in 2014. The two men had a tumultuous history prior to the campaign, with Yaccuci once jailing Smith for five days after finding him in contempt of court for misconduct. Following the election, Yacucci recused himself from cases involving Smith but began denying such motions in September, according to the formal notice of charges.”
When asked for comment, a JQC spokesman noted: "The commission does not typically comment on its cases. However, I did want to provide a little context that might address your first question.
"Both the JQC hearing panel, and Justices Pariente and Quince [in a separate opinion calling for a longer suspension] noted Canon 1 requires both judicial integrity and judicial independence. The latter does not offer judges the power to do as they please.” That is from page 12 of the opinion in Yacucci’s case, which may be found here.