Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent opinion of the Florida Supreme Court reprimanding and suspending a judge for six (6) months for violating the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct Canons related to judicial candidates and the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar while he was a practicing lawyer for, inter alia, making improper and false statements as a candidate, and failing to withdraw from a lawsuit where he had a conflict of interest. The case is Inquiry Concerning a Judge, No. 13-25 Re: Andrew J. Decker, III, No. SC14-383 (March 2, 2017) and the Court’s opinion is here: https://efactssc-public.flcourts.org/casedocuments/2014/383/2014-383_disposition_138059.pdf
The investigation into the alleged misconduct began before the judge was elected as a Third Judicial Circuit judge in 2012. The judge was alleged to have had a conflict of interest while he was representing clients as a lawyer and of, among other things, falsely stating that he had never been accused of conflict of interest and stating that he was “pro-life” and Republican at campaign events before his election in 2012. The judge maintained that his comments regarding his party and his views regarding abortion were “political speech” protected by the First Amendment.
The judge was also named in an inquiry by a Florida House committee regarding the time it takes to investigate and resolve allegations against judges. Former Duval Circuit Judge Mark Hulsey was also named; however, he resigned the day before the committee began the inquiry.
In March 2015, after an investigation, the Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) recommended a 90-day suspension without pay; however, the opinion rejected that recommendation and imposed a six (6) month suspension, reprimand, and required payment of the JQC’s costs.
According to the opinion: “All the violations established in this case demonstrate a pattern of poor judgment, and lack of concern for jointly represented clients and for other counsel and their clients.” “Judge Decker’s misconduct unquestionably warrants the imposition of a serious sanction.” The opinion also indicated that the judge’s misconduct did not result in any harm to his clients or anyone else and: “Although the series of acts by Judge Decker involving misconduct requires the imposition of a serious sanction, we have concluded it does not merit removal from office.”
Bottom line: This case is interesting since all judicial candidates and judges are subject to investigation by the JQC for alleged violations of the Judicial Canons for alleged misconduct while they are candidates or while they are on the bench. They also can (and have been) prosecuted by The Florida Bar for misconduct before they are sworn in as a judge. In this case, the Court suspended the judge for conduct both as a practicing lawyer and as a judicial candidate; however, The Florida Bar will have jurisdiction to prosecute the judge for Florida Bar Rule violations after he is no longer a judge.
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Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire
Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.
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Clearwater, Florida 33761
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