November 4, 2001
Warfare Between Florida
Judicial Commission & Legislature
Judges' impeachment probe
By William R. Levesque and David
© St. Petersburg Times, published October 13,
A state House panel will recommend by January whether two
embattled circuit judges should be impeached. The speaker of the
Florida House on Friday launched an impeachment inquiry of Hillsborough Circuit
Judge Robert Bonanno and Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Charles Cope, marking the
first time in a quarter century lawmakers have unleashed the process against a
Speaker Tom Feeney directed the House's Judicial Oversight
Committee to recommend to the full House by mid January whether it should
consider drafting articles of impeachment against the embattled
"The speaker is questioning their ability to hear cases
impartially and fairly," said state Rep. Larry Crow, R-Dunedin, who chairs the
committee. "We're not on a witch hunt. We're on a fact-finding mission. This is
not an attempt by a branch of government to have a chilling effect on the
If the House voted by a two-thirds majority to impeach, the
judges would face suspension pending trial in the Senate, where it would also
take a two-thirds vote to convict and remove them from office. They would
also lose their state pensions.
Crow said Feeney, who did not return
calls for comment, was frustrated by the inability of the Judicial
Qualifications Commission, a watchdog group that regulates judges, to quickly
and effectively deal with allegations of misconduct by the
"There's a general sense in the House leadership that the JQC
doesn't have enough power to expeditiously remove bad judges," Crow
The JQC last month recommended to the Florida Supreme Court that
Bonanno be publicly reprimanded for a "serious lapse in judgment" for entering
the office of another judge after hours. The judge awaits a final decision from
the Supreme Court.
State Attorney Jerry Hill of Polk County, who oversaw
a grand jury that investigated Bonanno, sharply criticized the deal between
Bonanno and the JQC calling for just a reprimand, saying the JQC "missed the
The grand jury in a non-binding report released this year
concluded that Bonanno is "unfit" to be a judge and should be
[Judge] Cope, meanwhile, awaits a Nov. 26 criminal trial in
California on five misdemeanor charges stemming from allegations by two women
that he stole their room key and tried to enter their hotel room as they
The JQC also is conducting an investigation of Cope, who is on an
indefinite, paid leave of absence.
The decision to open an impeachment
inquiry complicates pending misconduct cases against both judges and stuns
attorneys representing them, who defend their clients as able, ethical
The JQC was created more than 30 years ago, in part, to take the
cumbersome job of impeachment away from the Legislature. With Florida growing
rapidly, the Legislature did not have the time or political will to discipline
judges who misbehaved. ....
The chairman of the JQC, Judge James Wolf of the 1st District Court of
Appeal in Tallahassee, also defended how the JQC had carried out its role under
the state Constitution. "I believe the JQC is doing a good job with
its constitutional responsibilities," Wolf said.
The impeachment process
"is not only cumbersome, but it is pretty expensive -- much more so than the JQC
process," said attorney Frederick Karl, a former Supreme Court
Karl participated in two impeachments as a state representative
in the 1950s and served as special counsel to a House committee that began
impeachment proceedings against three Supreme Court justices in the mid
The entire state Senate acts as the jury of a trial, with the
chief justice of the Supreme Court presiding as judge. A group of House managers
serve as prosecutors. It takes a two-thirds vote of present senators to
There really are no fixed standards about how an impeachment or
trial runs, Karl said. "It's political, and it's not perfect," Karl said.
"But it is better than no process at all."
If impeached and convicted,
the judges also would lose their pensions. When the JQC removes a judge, the
pension is not lost. "They get their pension and everybody goes away
happy," Crow said. "Impeachment is much more severe. There's a real hammer
The following is comment made by Susan McMillan,
wife of former Judge Matt McMillan, who sent the above article.
What doesn't really come across
in this story is that even the FL. Legislature is frustrated with the
malfeasance of the JQC. They refuse to properly discipline judges who are
their buddies, so the Legislature is stepping in in two prominent misconduct
cases, in essence taking over the job of the JQC, since the JQC just isn't doing
Of course, I don't think the legislature is
aware of the flip side of the JQC process: The JQC removes judges who are
not their buddies, particularly judges who run successful campaigns against
incumbents, while it ignores the very serious misconduct of the other, good ole
The truth of the matter is that the problem will never
be resolved by a system rife with political motivations. It is for this reason
that we have, as here, a resounding cry for the judicial accountability proposed
by J.A.I.L. Nothing will ever change until the Special Grand Juries instilled by
J.A.I.L. are in place throughout this country.
J.A.I.L. is the new means of a peaceful
revolution in this country.
J.A.I.L. is an acronym for Judicial
Accountability Initiative Law
JAIL's very informative website is found at www.jail4judges.org
JAIL proposes a
unique new addition to our form of government.
JAIL is powerful! JAIL is
dynamic! JAIL is America's ONLY hope!
JAIL is spreading across America like a
fast moving wildfire!
JAIL is making inroads into Congress for federal
JAIL may be supported at P.O. Box 207, N. Hollywood, CA
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does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority
keen to set brush fires in people's minds.." - Samuel Adams
are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is
striking at the
-- Henry David Thoreau <><