* Warfare Between FL. Judicial Comm. & Legislature
- View SourceJ.A.I.L. News Journal
Los Angeles, California November 4, 2001Warfare Between Florida Judicial Commission & LegislatureJudges' impeachment probe opens
By William R. Levesque and David Karp
© St. Petersburg Times, published October 13, 2001
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 Florida judge.
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 judges.
"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 judiciary."
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 judges.
"There's a general sense in the House leadership that the JQC doesn't have enough power to expeditiously remove bad judges," Crow said.
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 mark."
The grand jury in a non-binding report released this year concluded that Bonanno is "unfit" to be a judge and should be removed.
[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 slept.
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 judges. ....
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 justice.
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 1970s.
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 convict.
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 there."The following is comment made by Susan McMillan, wife of former Judge Matt McMillan, who sent the above article.Dear Ron,
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 it.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 boy/appointed judges.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
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