Belated remorse

In determining the appropriate sanction in discipline proceedings, whether a judge is repentant is treated as a predictor of whether the judge is likely to re-offend. There are cases in which a judge’s prompt acknowledgement of responsibility has made the difference between removal from and remaining on the bench. In 2014, however, remorse was too little, too late to prevent the removal of two judges.

The Indiana Supreme Court removed a judge for substantial administrative failures, inappropriate demeanor toward attorneys and court employees, and retaliating when she thought court staff had complained to or cooperated with the Commission on Judicial Qualifications. In the Matter of Brown, 4 N.E.3d 619 (Indiana 2014). The Court found “particularly egregious” that 10 defendants were not released from jail until three to 22 days after they should have been as a result of the judge’s failure to complete necessary paperwork and to adequately train and supervise court staff.

The Court stated that the judge’s post-hearing apology was “entitled to little mitigating weight” because she made it after putting “the Commission to its burden of proof at a lengthy hearing” and after failing to cooperate in the Commission investigation, including refusing to take an oath at her deposition. Also in aggravation, the Court noted that the judge “was not a novice” and others in the court system had attempted to assist her. “Regrettably,” the Court concluded, the judge’s “pattern of neglect, hostility, retaliation, and recalcitrance toward investigating officials indicates an unwillingness or inability on her part to remedy deficiencies, alone or with others’ assistance.”

The Florida Supreme Court removed a judge for operating a for-profit business from her chambers on official time and using judicial resources and her judicial assistant; offering to sell the business’s products (books) in the courthouse to lawyers who appeared before her and courthouse employees; promoting the sale of the books on a web-site that included photographs of her in her robes; failing to pay state sales tax on the book sales and to register the name of her business under the fictitious name law; and a lack of candor during the investigation. Inquiry Concerning Hawkins, 151 So. 3d 1200 (Florida 2014).

The Court noted that the judge had not accepted responsibility for her actions or acknowledged their impropriety until her response to the Court’s second order to show cause why she should not be removed. The Court concluded that her belated apology when faced with removal “fails to overcome the grievous nature of her conduct during this proceeding, which was ‘fundamentally inconsistent with the responsibilities of judicial office’ and which ‘struck at the heart of judicial integrity.’” Thus, it concluded, her “prior record of service and good intentions” did not outweigh her misconduct.

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