Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission
The Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) is a judicial disciplinary agency in Florida, created by a 1968 amendment to the Florida Constitution for the purpose of investigating allegations of judicial misconduct by the state's judges. It is not a part of the Florida Supreme Court or the state court system.
The commission may investigate a judge for misconduct if a complaint is filed at any time while the judge is in office and for one year afterward. The commission has no authority over federal judges, judges in other states, magistrates, lawyers, law enforcement personnel, court employees or state attorneys. A majority of the misconduct complaints received by the commission ask for a review or reversal of a judge's rulings or decisions. However, the commission also has no authority to reverse, review or change any decision or ruling made by a judge or court.
The commission is not authorized to take action against a judge. If the commission finds a judge has committed misconduct, a recommendation is made to the Florida Supreme Court. However, it is the court's responsibility to decide if the commission's recommendation is legally correct. Before the court makes a final decision, the parties have the right to file briefs and request oral argument before the court. Judges accused of misconduct may waive their right to do so. The Florida House of Representatives is also authorized to impeach judges. After impeachments, misconduct trials take place before the Florida Senate. While awaiting trial by the senate, a judge who was impeached by the house is required to be suspended from the bench. If found guilty, a judge may be removed from office.
The commission can also recommend judges be required to retire involuntarily if serious illness prevents them from performing their duties. This is not considered misconduct, and this finding requires a confirming vote from two-thirds of the hearing panel. Involuntary retirement filings remain confidential in accordance with state laws protecting the medical records of state employees.
Pursuant to the Florida Constitution, Article V, section 12, the commission is made up of 15 members:
- Two district court of appeals judges chosen by all the judges of the five district courts
- Two circuit court judges chosen by all the judges of the 20 judicial circuits
- Two county court judges chosen by all the judges of the 67 county courts
- Four registered voters who also are lawyers, chosen by the board of governors of the Florida Bar.
- Five non-lawyers, who are registered voters, chosen by the governor.
The members of the commission elect a chair and vice-chair who serve two-year terms. The commission has responsibility for appointing an executive director and general counsel to carry out the agency's duties. The executive director may also direct the work of other administrative staff required to carry out the commission's administrative responsibilities. The commission administers its own budget.
The commission is divided into two panels. An "investigative panel" has responsibilities similar to that of a prosecutor. The other is a "hearing panel" that acts similarly to a panel of judges to review the case. The hearing panel may appoint a hearing panel counsel to offer legal advice to the panel, as required. Judges accused of misconduct may be represented by a private attorney.
Filing a complaint
Complaints against state judges must be filed in writing with the commission. Judicial misconduct complaints may not be filed with the supreme court, other state courts or judges. Neither the supreme court nor the chief justice of the court have any authority to investigate alleged misconduct by state judges or to investigate the commission.
The commission cannot begin an investigation until a written complaint is received, and the commission cannot accept complaints via e-mail. After the form is completed, it must be signed and mailed to the commission at:
Judicial Qualifications Commission
Post Office Box 14106
Tallahassee, FL 32317
Phone (850) 488-1581
For further information, or to check on the status of a complaint, the commission can be contacted at:
Judicial Discipline & Disability Commission
Judicial Qualifications Commission
1110 Thomasville Road
Tallahassee, FL 32303-6224
Phone: (850) 488-1581
Fax: (850) 922-6781
Misconduct complaints and initial investigations are required to remain confidential, per the state constitution. Once formal charges are filed with the supreme court, the matter ceases to be confidential. The notice of formal charges will be the first public record in a case. However, although the documents are filed with the supreme court, the court only serves as a custodian of the records, unless and until a judge is found guilty of misconduct by the commission and a recommendation is made to the court.
Suspension during investigation
While the commission conducts an investigation for misconduct, a judge may be temporarily suspended from office. However, the commission's investigative panel make the request, for either a paid or unpaid suspension, to the supreme court.
Complaint investigation and resolution process
The commission's investigative panel receives and/or initiates complaints. When warranted, the panel conducts investigations into allegations of misconduct to determine if formal charges should be filed. Following the investigation, the panel will either dismiss the complaint or, after a simple majority vote, forward formal charges to the hearing panel. The commission's chair serves as the chair of the investigative panel.
If formal charges are filed regarding allegations of misconduct, the judge who has been accused of the misconduct has 20 days to submit a response to the commission. A judge may also request any hearing be held in the county where they reside. After the answer is filed, the hearing panel schedules a hearing date.
The commission's hearing panel is responsible for reviewing the case against a judge and will hear arguments from both sides. The time a misconduct hearing takes varies substantially, depending on the matter being investigated. In some misconduct matters, the judge will agree or "stipulate" to the discipline to be imposed, and the case then goes to the supreme court for final approval. If a judge does not agree with the commission's findings, the commission's hearing panel sets a hearing. The hearings are not televised or broadcast, but they are open to the public. The commission holds hearings around the state, although most often these take place near the judge's place of residence.
The supreme court may reject a stipulated agreement between the commission and the judge who commits the misconduct. This has happened in the past. A judge may contest the charges, which tends to take longer and lead to more hearings.
The hearing panel can, by majority vote, elect to impose discipline upon a judge found guilty of committing misconduct. A two-thirds vote of the panel is required to remove a judge from office for misconduct. The commission then forwards the recommendation to the supreme court. The court must then decide if the commission's findings are legally correct. The parties have the right to present their side to the court. This is done by way of written briefs which are filed with the court, and a request for oral argument may also be made. The judge may waive his or her right to present their case to the supreme court.
Unlike judicial qualification commission hearings, the supreme court's arguments regarding judicial misconduct are broadcast on the court's website, as well as on the Florida Channel. Past arguments can be found through the supreme court's webcasts and video archives page. Videotapes are also available.
The commission may recommend that a judge found guilty of misconduct be subject to any of the following:
- no discipline
- public reprimand
- a fine
- suspension from office
- removal from office
In some instances, the court has handed down other types of sanctions such as counseling, requiring judges to write letters of apology and mental health treatment.
Historical information regarding judicial misconduct
Resolved misconduct cases, by type of sanction, year and judge
Between 2001 (the earliest date records became available) and 2013, a total of 52 judicial misconduct complaints were resolved by a public disposition.
Judges removed from office
Matthew McMillan - McMillan was also ordered to pay costs of $14,015.
James E. Henson
John Renke III - He was also ordered to repay the JQC $8,210 in costs.
N. James Turner
Richard H. Albritton, Jr. - He was also fined and ordered to repay costs to the JQC of $1204.
Timothy Shea - Shea was also ordered to write letters of apology and participate in mental health treatment and counseling.
Some judges were suspended, in addition to being reprimanded and/or fined.
Judges reprimanded or censured
Cynthia Holloway - She also received a 30-day unpaid suspension.
Rosa Rodriguez - She also received a suspension and was fined $40,000.
Charles W. Cope
Patricia Kinsey - She was also fined $50,000.
Robert Lance Andrews
Carven D. Angel
Meryl L. Allawas
Robert Diaz - He was also fined $15,000 and suspended for 14 days.
David M. Gooding
Ana Marie Pando - She was also fined $25,000.
James R. Adams
Brandt Downey III
Dennis P. Maloney
Wayne Woodard - He was also ordered to attend counseling.
Cheryl Aleman - She was also ordered to repay the JQC $8,677 in costs.
Cliff Barnes - He was also ordered to pay costs of $4,596.
Peter A. Bell
Mary Jane Henderson
George W. Maxwell, III
Ralph E. Eriksson - He was also ordered to pay costs of $9,179.
Michelle V. Baker - She was also required to pay a $25,000 fine.
Yvonne Colodny - She also paid a fine of $5,000.
Dale C. Cohen
William J. Singbush - He was also ordered to keep weekly logs for one year and provide a signed letter of public apology to the JQC.
Joseph P. Baker
Judges who resigned or retired after being charged with misconduct
Howard C. Berman - In exchange for his resignation, the misconduct charges against Berman were dismissed.
Robert H. Bonanno
Misconduct cases dismissed voluntarily, at the request of the Judicial Qualifications Commission
Scott A. Kenney
Joyce A. Julian
James C. Hauser
Alan C. Todd
Thomas Stringer, Sr.
Ana M. Pando
Judges who were forced to retire involuntarily
This type of action is not taken in cases involving misconduct. Involuntary retirement is used in cases where a judge can no longer perform his or her judicial duties due to a mental or physical impairment or limitation.
Summaries of the documents filed in these matters are available in the Florida Supreme Court's Judicial Qualifications Commission Archives.
Chart: Approved sanctions, 2001-2013The chart compares the types of sanctions, handed down in misconduct cases, which have been resolved by the commission and approved by the Florida Supreme Court. Information regarding the cases was released to the public between 2001 and 2013. (Some cases from 2013 and 2014 are still pending.)
(Some judges may have received more than one type of sanction.)
Unusual results in misconduct cases
In 2009, Gregory P. Holder petitioned the supreme court to ask that he be compensated for the attorney's fees he incurred in defending himself against misconduct charges brought by the JQC. The court awarded Holder $70,000.
Law, procedures and regulations
The commission's activities are governed by the Article V, Section 12 of the Florida Constitution.
The ethical standards for judges are contained in the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct. The code applies to all sitting judges in the state.
- Canon 1: A judge shall uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary.
- Canon 2: A judge shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all of the judge's activities.
- Canon 3: A judge shall perform the duties of judicial office impartially and diligently.
- Canon 4: A judge is encouraged to engage in activities to improve the law, the legal system and the administration of justice.
- Canon 5: A judge shall regulate extrajudicial activities to minimize the risk of conflict with judicial duties.
- Canon 6: Fiscal matters of a judge shall be conducted in a manner that does not give the appearance of influence or impropriety.
- Canon 7: A judge or candidate for judicial office shall refrain from inappropriate political activity.
Canon 7 of the code also applies to any person who is a candidate for a judicial office. (A complete copy of the code is available on the supreme court's website.)
- Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission
- Florida Supreme Court, "Judicial Qualifications Commission Cases Pending in the Florida Supreme Court"
- Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission, "Annual Report 2012," accessed June 16, 2014
- Florida Supreme Court, "Judicial Qualifications Commission Cases Pending in the Florida Supreme Court, How Judges Are Disciplined for Misconduct," accessed June 16, 2014
- Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission, "Complaint Form," accessed June 16, 2014
- See Florida Constitution, Article V, section 12
- Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission, "Judicial Qualifications Commission Members," June 16, 2014
- Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission, June 16, 2014
- Florida Supreme Court, "Judicial Qualifications Commission Cases Pending in the Florida Supreme Court, FAQ," accessed June 21, 2014
- Florida Judicial Qualification's Commission, "Judicial Qualifications Commission Rules," accessed June 16, 2014
- Florida Supreme Court, "Judicial Qualifications Commission Case Archive," accessed June 21, 2014
- Florida Supreme Court, "Code of Judicial Conduct for the State of Florida," accessed June 16, 2014