TALLAHASSEE - The Florida Supreme Court has upheld the findings of a judicial oversight board that recommended sanctions against a state judge who had been accused of misconduct in two cases over which she presided.
In a per curiam order issued Nov. 14, the state supreme court approved the sanctions recommended by the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission against Judge Robin C. Lemonidis of the 18th Judicial Circuit.
According to the state high court’s order, the first instance of misconduct occurred when Lemonidis was the presiding judge in the case of State v. Francis. In response to the defense lawyer failing to address all parties by their surnames, Lemonidis “employed an adversarial tone and demeanor when speaking to the defendant and his attorney,” the order stated.
Lemonidis apparently admonished and reprimanded the defense attorney in full view of the jury, often using “facial expressions and a tone of voice” that indicated her frustration with the attorney, and she behaved similarly in her interactions with witnesses and others involved in the trial, “at times appearing openly annoyed … by the person she was addressing,” according to the court’s order.
During the second case, State v. Welch, a first-degree murder case involving the death penalty, Lemonidis was also said to have acted inappropriately.
During the penalty phase of the case, (the defendant had previously pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder), over which Lemonidis presided, the judge held a sentencing hearing, after the jury had already declined to recommend the death penalty, in which she made inappropriate remarks. Her comments during the sentencing colloquy included telling the defendant that, “I do hope that you do fight for your life every minute of every day. And that would be the only reason that I would hope your life is any longer than six weeks.”
The qualifications commission subsequently charged Lemonidis with violating the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct, specifically Canons 1, 2A, 3B(4) and 3B(5). The commission recommended a public reprimand and that the judge participate in stress management classes.
The commission and Lemonidis executed a stipulation in which the judge admitted to the conduct and agreed that she violated the Code of Judicial Conduct and accepted the recommended discipline.
The Supreme Court ruled that when a respondent judge admits to wrongdoing and the qualifications commission’s findings are undisputed, the high court typically concludes that the commission’s findings are supported by clear and convincing evidence.
The high court agreed that Lemonidis failed to establish, maintain and enforce the highest standard of conduct; did not promote public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary; was not patient, dignified and courteous to litigants and lawyers; and neglected to perform her judicial duties without evidencing bias or prejudice.