A prerequisite for holding a judgeship is maintaining an impeccable reputation of upstanding and ethical conduct in all affairs. Along the eastern shores of Florida known as the Space and Gold Coasts, the spotlight has shone upon the wayward conduct of numerous judges.
In Broward County, scandals from the conduct of public officials are a regular occurrence. The Sheriff there went to prison for corruption. Bad behavior by judges is so widespread that one attorney says there is a “systematic problem.”
Since 2001, 17% of the 62 formal disciplinary cases filed against sitting judges have been in Broward County, according to records from Florida’s Judicial Qualifications Committee. Those figures do not include recent arrests or reflect resignations before charges were filed.
Amongst those who resigned is Judge Lawrence L. Korda. His 2007 resignation came after he was caught smoking marijuana in a park. That incident pales in comparison to a 2001 arrest of another judge, which resulted in public intoxication charges of a judge found naked from the waist down and drunk at a resort hosting a state judicial conference.
More recently, three judges have been arrested for drunk-driving charges. The first arrest was of Judge Cynthia Imperato in November 2013. “He’s all over the road. He nearly sideswiped me twice,” said a 911 caller who was unsure who was driving a white Mercedes-Benz. “He’s gotta be drunk. He’s really dangerous.”
Nearly an hour later and less than three miles away, police saw the erratically driven Mercedes-Benz. Imperato knew she had been pulled over for “weaving,” and she refused to take a breathalyzer test.
Then, on May 1, 2014, Judge Gisele Pollack was charged with four counts of DUI and failure to use due car after she was involved in an accident with injuries Pollack, 56, has a substance abuse history and has been overseeing a misdemeanor drug court since its 2005 inception.
“I just hope that people treat her with the same level of respect and compassion that she shows the defendants who appear before her,” said her lawyer, Eric Schwartzreich, “She’s had some severe personal tragedy in her life. Her mother recently passed away, and they were very close. It’s been really devastating for her.”
In mid-May 2014, the Florida Supreme Court suspended Pollock for bizarre courtroom conduct. It appeared by her slurred speech that she was intoxicated on that December 17 incident.
“It is rare to see someone in this kind of rapid descent,” said Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein. “Anyone who knows her known that she is one of the most caring, compassionate people around. To see this happen to her is heartbreaking.
On the morning of May 27, 2014, Judge Lynn Rosenthal created a spectacle at the courthouse, As Rosenthal entered the courthouse parking area at 8:00 A.M., and she sideswiped a parked police car. Then, she slammed over and over into gate with the BMW S.U.V.
“Tell me one other courthouse that at any time ever that has had three judges pending criminal charges, a fourth disbarred by the Supreme Court, and another judge awaiting removal,” said Finkelstein. “I do think it belies al underlying systematic problem in Broward County.”
An anonymous source told WPLG TV that a Broward family court judge was under federal investigation on suspicion of allowing a convicted Ponzi schemer to influence a case. The disbarred judge was found to have exchanged 949 phone calls and 471 texts with the prosecutor in death penalty case.
The Space Coast of Brevard County has had its excitement from judges, too. On June 2, 2014, Judge John Murphy became upset with public defender Andrew Weinstock when pressuring the attorney to waive his client’s speedy trial rights.
“You know, if I had a rock I would throw it at you right now,” Murphy told Weinstock. “Stop pissing me off… Just sit down.”
“You know I’m the public defender,” replied Weinstock. “I have a right to be here, and I have a fight to stand and represent my client.”
Perturbed, Murphy responded with: “If you want to fight, let’s go out back and I’ll beat your ass.” The two went into a hallway as court bystanders nervously listened to banging in the hallway. The video was broadcast on WETV.
No charges were filed but the public defender said it will report the incident to the Florida Bar.
Sources: nytimes.com; wftv.com; correctionsone.com; Orlando Sun Sentinel; abovethelaw.com
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