Judge Diaz fined, suspended

first_imgJudge Diaz fined, suspended August 1, 2005 Regular News Judge Diaz fined, suspended For sending an anonymous e-mail to another judge A Broward County judge has been reprimanded, fined, and suspended for two weeks by the Supreme Court for sending an anonymous e-mail to a fellow judge that was deemed to threaten political retaliation and also sending a copy to a local bar association.But the action approving the stipulated settlement between Judge Robert F. Diaz and the Judicial Qualifications Commission drew a dissent from two justices. They said the JQC failed to specify what if any judicial canons or laws Judge Diaz violated and the penalty in any case was too harsh.In January 2004, Diaz sent an anonymous e-mail to another county judge, which included a story about a circuit judge who had been criticized for reporting illegal aliens to the U.S. Immigration Service when he learned they were appearing before him in his courtroom. The electronic missive also said, “Isn’t this what you used to do in Hollywood (Florida)? We remember.”A copy of the e-mail was sent to the Broward County Hispanic Bar Association, and later to the association’s president. The recipient judge interpreted the message as abusive and a threat to organize Hispanics to vote against him in a future election.In the subsequent JQC investigation, Judge Diaz waived the right to a trial, stipulated to the JQC’s facts, and accepted its recommended discipline of a two-week suspension without pay, a $15,000 fine, and a public reprimand, as well as an apology to the recipient judge and the Broward County Hispanic Bar Association.In its report to the court, the JQC wrote, “The panel takes a very dim view of the conduct of the respondent in this matter, which involves a serious offense. He in fact sent an implied threat of organized group retaliation because of alleged actions of a fellow judge, and to exacerbate matters sent a copy to a local ethnic bar association. Such conduct is deplorable, and were it not for the respondent’s lack of prior disciplinary history and his acknowledgment of his conduct, the panel would consider forwarding this matter for trial and a more severe penalty. The period of suspension would be greater but for the burden placed on the respondent’s colleagues.”The court majority in its per curiam opinion noted that the JQC did not specify any violations of the judicial canons but noted, “[B]y his stipulation and agreement, it appears that Judge Diaz has conceded he violated the broad provisions of Canon 1 and Canon 2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct, which can be construed to prohibit judges from making threatening or disparaging remarks about other judges or parties in the manner involved herein. These canons broadly prohibit conduct unbecoming a judicial officer.”The majority also said, “It appears here that the commission’s concerns were not with the substance of the matters addressed by Judge Diaz, but rather with the fact that Judge Diaz acted anonymously and that his message could be construed as a threat. . . ”The opinion concluded, “Based upon our review, and because Judge Diaz admits to the wrongdoing and does not contest the commission’s findings in any respect, we conclude that the JQC’s findings are supported by clear and convincing evidence. Similarly, because Judge Diaz has expressly agreed to the recommended discipline both below and in this court, including the fine , suspension without pay, and a public reprimand, we accept and approve this discipline.”The court said the publication of the opinion would serve as the reprimand.Justices Charles Wells, Harry Lee Anstead, Fred Lewis, Peggy Quince, and Kenneth Bell concurred in the opinion. Justice Raoul Cantero, joined by Chief Justice Barbara Pariente, dissented.Cantero argued that the court has a duty to independently review JQC recommendations and that even though Judge Diaz agreed to the facts and the sanctions, the JQC failed to specify the nature of the violations.“Here, although the JQC’s Notice of Formal Charges alleged specific facts, it failed to allege a violation of any statute, canon, or even a general ethical principle,” Cantero wrote. “.. . . The JQC did not identify a single judicial canon that Judge Diaz’s actions violated, and I cannot agree to discipline a judge based on conduct that, in my view, does not violate a specific canon.”The justice said he would refer the case back to the JQC to have those problems addressed. As for punishment, he cited other cases where judges were accused of apparently more serious violations, yet had less severe punishment — typically a public reprimand.“Judge Diaz had no previous disciplinary incidents, admitted the misconduct, was remorseful, and promised it would not happen again,” Cantero wrote. “.. . . . Therefore, even assuming Judge Diaz violated a canon of the Code of Judicial Conduct (which the JQC could not identify), I would modify the recommended discipline by eliminating all but a reprimand issued by opinion.”The court acted July 7, in Inquiry Concerning a Judge Re: Robert F. Diaz,case no. SC04-1845.last_img

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