FORT LAUDERDALE – The Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission has instituted formal proceedings against Judge Claudia Robinson for potential abuses of power.
The investigation comes as a result of Robinson appointing “a disproportionate number of mediations” to attorney Michael Ahearn, who had served as Robinson’s campaign adviser during her 2014 campaign.
“Although your campaign did not pay Ahearn for his services during the election, he has stated publicly, and you have acknowledged he had ‘a significant role’ in your 2014 campaign, and that he helped you get elected in a very close election,” read the JQC’s Nov. 30 notice of formal charges to Robinson.
It notes Robinson ordered 296 cases into private mediation between April 2015 and March 2017, of which she assigned 245 to Ahearn. Of those, 174 cases opted to use Ahearn’s services rather than find a different mediator, resulting in at least 174 hours of work at $250 to $300 per hour.
The notice tells Robinson her actions “created the appearance of impropriety and favoritism in the mediation appointment process,” and could constitute a violation of the code of judicial conduct.
Ahearn responded to Florida Record’s inquiries with a statement. “On Aug. 18, 2017, I was informed by the Florida Bar that a complaint was filed against me based on the then allegations against Judge Robinson based on the Bob Norman story,” Ahearn said. “I was informed that the Florida Bar dismissed the complaint. The judicial qualifications committee stated in their pleadings that they did not find that I participated in any quid pro quo arrangement nor participated in any other wrong doing in regards to Judge Robinson.”
Ahearn’s statement continued, arguing the circumstances do not point to any improprieties. “Prior to Judge Robinson’s being elected judge, I presided over a thousand county court cases as default mediator and/or arbitrator where I was hired by litigants directly and appointed by the court,” he said. “It should be noted that in every instance wherein I was appointed by Judge Robinson as a default mediator, the parties had the option to use me by default or select another mediator. Based on the pleadings from the JQC, while I was appointed on approximately 80 percent of Judge Robinson’s mediations, in one-third of those cases the parties selected a different mediator.”
Ahearn told the Florida Record he has nothing further to add to his statement.
Robinson has 20 days from the date the notice was served to respond to the charges by filing her response and pleadings with the clerk of the Florida Supreme Court.