Judge Cope Shows His True Colors
- J.A.I.L. News Journal
Los Angeles, California November 24, 2002Florida Judge CopeShows His True Colors
On September 12, 2002 we published an article by Reporter David Sommer under the title of "Florida Judge Faces Criminal Charges In California." Because the article is brief, we shall republish it as a foundation of understanding for our readers so they may grasp the import of the article that follows, entitled "Cope's bully tactics." Therein, it explains how Judge Cope, after facing some very serious crimes, including stealing a hotel room key from two women, attempting to enter their room while they were sleeping and making a false statement to a Carmel police officer who arrested him after the alleged break-in attempt, and although he made indicting admissions to his acts, and was covered for because he was a judge, now wants the taxpayers to pay him $389,000 for attorney's fees and costs. Will wonders ever cease? --Ron Branson
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CLEARWATER - A judge on paid leave while awaiting trial on misdemeanor criminal charges will return to work Monday with the blessing of state judicial regulators.
Pasco-Pinellas Circuit Judge Charles Cope is awaiting trial in California on charges including petty theft, battery and trespassing.
But the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission this week concluded Cope should stay in office with a public reprimand after finding him guilty of public intoxication and inappropriate conduct of an intimate nature while attending a conference April 12 in Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif.
JQC Chairman James Wolf on Thursday decided there is ``no reason [Cope] should not be back at work,'' said Chief Circuit Judge David Demers, who oversees judicial assignments in Pasco and Pinellas counties.
Cope did not respond to a call for comment.
During his recent JQC trial, Cope testified he was ordered to take a leave of absence from his $130,000-a-year job after news of his California arrest became public in July 2001. Cope did not say who ordered him to take paid leave.
After the trial in June, a JQC hearing panel acquitted Cope of administrative charges alleging he stole a hotel room key from two women, tried to enter their room while they were sleeping and made a false statement to a Carmel police officer who arrested him after the alleged break-in attempt.
The panel also said Cope did not violate state laws or judicial canons when he failed to disclose his arrest to the JQC.
The panel recommended that the state Supreme Court publicly reprimand Cope for being drunk in public and for either attempting or having intimate contact with one of the women on a Carmel beach.
The court, which has the option to remove Cope from the bench, is not expected to announce a punishment for several months.
Cope's California trial on five misdemeanor charges has been postponed repeatedly and is now scheduled to begin Sept. 30.
State legislative leaders, who last year threatened to impeach Cope, could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.
Cope's absence has been a strain on the circuit's finances, Demers said. His family court caseload has been covered by a succession of Pinellas County judges, who in turn were replaced by retired judges who are paid by the day, the chief judge said.
Demers said he could not immediately tally the expense of covering Cope's caseload.
After Cope was arrested on a drunken-driving charge during a 1996 judicial conference in Naples, the criminal charge was dropped and the JQC took no action.
Reporter David Sommer can be reached at (727) 799-7413.
Cope's bully tactics
© St. Petersburg Times,November 23, 2002
Three months after a state hearing panel gave him a break and recommended only a reprimand for his tawdry behavior at a California judicial conference, Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Charles Cope just won't let up. He wants money and vindication, and his bully tactics are getting old. Is the state Supreme Court, which must ultimately decide how to deal with Cope, watching? Three months after a state hearing panel gave him a break and recommended only a reprimand for his tawdry behavior at a California judicial conference, Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Charles Cope just won't let up. He wants money and vindication, and his bully tactics are getting old. Is the state Supreme Court, which must ultimately decide how to deal with Cope, watching?
Cope and his attorney, Robert Merkle, have spent more than a year calling people names and pointing the accusing finger everywhere except in the judge's own mirror. He was arrested in Carmel, Calif., walking on a street in the early hours of April 5, 2001, a few blocks from a hotel where two women say he tried to break into their room. Cope, 53 and married, had met the women the night before, and admits he had consensual sexual foreplay with one of them. He was, by his own admission, drunk both nights.
The public he serves, and the state Judicial Qualifications Commission, knew nothing about his little skirmish with police until the Times reported on it three months later. For a judicial panel in August to recommend only a reprimand, given the record of deceit and coverup, was stunning. But, true to his form, Cope has not been content to leave well enough alone.
Cope has asked the state, which paid his $130,000 salary for a full year while he was on leave, to give him $389,000 for attorney's fees and costs. He claims he is due reimbursement because he won his case before the Judicial Commission, even though he was cited for two judicial code violations. He claims he admitted his transgressions upfront, even though case records reveal just the opposite. He claims he was "ultimately acquitted of all criminal charges" in California, even though he pleaded no contest to public drunkenness in a plea deal to avoid worse.
The California prosecutor has said in sworn documents that she believes the woman, Maryland veterinarian Lisa Jeanes, told the truth. The prosecutor agreed to settle the case because she did not want "to put the victim through the extra hardship of a trial." The reason is that Cope tried to put Jeanes on trial. He hired a private investigator to dig up dirt, and Merkle tried to depose virtually everyone who knew the woman -- two former boyfriends, a former veterinarian intern, a dermatologist, the ex-wife of a former boyfriend, the former husband of Jeanes' mother. The investigator filed a report that amounted to a contemptible, wholly unsubstantiated smear of Jeanes' private life.
John Mills, the JQC's special counsel, has watched this abuse for more than a year and is fed up. In his most recent motion to the Supreme Court, he wrote this about Cope:
"He attacks the character and integrity of the investigative panel, the commission's attorneys, the alleged victim, and her former boyfriend. He levels false allegations in his motion. In short, Judge Cope provides no sufficient factual or legal basis to support his demands. All he does is call into serious question the remorse that led the hearing panel to be lenient in its recommendation."
Mills is right. Cope has insulted the Judicial Commission and shamed the courts, and the Supreme Court has to end all this. In previous cases, most recently with Hillsborough Circuit Judge Cynthia Holloway, the court has shown it is willing to stand up to judges who play games with the institution they serve. Cope has turned his ethics case into a vicious contact sport, and he deserves no leniency. Bullies simply don't belong in robes.
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