Broward County Judge May Lose Job for Possible Ethics Violations Made While an Attorney
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In a recommendation made on Tuesday to the Florida Supreme Court, 5th District Court of Appeal Judge Kerry Evander wanted Broward Circuit Judge Laura Watson removed from the bench. Apparently, during an ethics trial over her conduct as a lawyer in a decade-old-case, instead of taking responsibility, Watson had questioned the characters of ethics panel members and prosecutors in the matter.
According to the report f the Judicial Qualifications Commission panel, Watson, as a lawyer, had given way to greed and "committed serious, flagrant violations of ethical rules" in a $14.5 million settlement offered in 2004 by Progressive Insurance Co. to some, but not all of the parties in the case.
Watson argued in the first instance that the Judicial Qualifications Commission was itself not qualified to handle the ethics violation matter of an attorney. However, the JQC did not accept her argument and held that it does have the jurisdiction where judges require to be disciplined for prior attorney conduct that could make the concerned judge deemed unfit for the bench.
Evander observed, "Judges are held to stricter ethical standards than lawyers because more rectitude is expected of them … Judge Watson's present lack of understanding of the rules regulating the Florida Bar, and the most basic ethical obligations imposed on lawyers, amply demonstrates 'present unfitness' to serve."
When contacted by the ABA Journal, Bob Sweetapple, Watson's attorney said that Watson had never been found personally liable in the related tort litigation which had concluded almost a decade ago. Criticizing the conduct of the JQC, Sweetapple said, "So she defended herself for eight years in the courts and was fully exonerated personally, but is somehow a bad person because she had the audacity to say she did nothing wrong? Where are we living?"
Further questioning the stance taken by the JQC, Sweetapple said, "If we have a private, secret body that can go confront judges about their past conduct … you control the judiciary. It's a frightening prospect."
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