Ana Gardiner
Ana Gardiner ()

Fort Lauderdale attorney Ana Gardiner was disbarred Thursday by the Florida Supreme Court for her heavy text traffic with a prosecutor when she was a judge in one of his murder trials.

Citing her “dishonest conduct” and the harm it caused in the murder case, the Supreme Court agreed with a Florida Bar recommendation that the former Broward circuit judge should be stripped of her law license.

Palm Beach Circuit Judge David Crow, who presided over her ethics trial, recommended only a one-year suspension.

However, Crow found she “provided a deceitful and dishonest portrayal” of her relationship with the state prosecutor in Omar Loureiro’s murder case, which ended with a death sentence.

The two maintained a secret out-of-court friendship. Although they denied discussing the case, evidence to the contrary was presented. In addition, they exchanged more than 1,400 phone calls and text messages between the beginning of trial and sentencing.

After that was disclosed, Loureiro’s death sentence was reversed. He received a new trial in another county, which resulted in a life sentence.

Gardiner’s disbarment will take effect 30 days from the release of the unsigned 13-page opinion or sooner if she notifies the court in writing she is no longer practicing law.

Gardiner resigned from the bench in April 2010 to work for Cole Scott & Kissane. By the time she faced an ethics trial in November 2012 she had committed to a self-imposed sabbatical.

The investigation into Gardiner’s out-of-court relationship also hurt the prosecutor’s career. Howard Scheinberg left the state attorney’s office and faced his own Florida Bar investigation. In June 2013, the Supreme Court suspended his license for two years.

The court appeared to be most concerned about Gardiner’s early efforts to conceal the relationship. After a law student questioned Scheinberg about socializing with the judge at a restaurant, Scheinberg brought that to Gardiner’s attention.

“The referee found that Gardiner assured Scheinberg there was nothing for him to be concerned about and that she made a ‘conscious decision’ not to disclose or make known her social interaction and phone calls with Scheinberg,” the opinion states.

When Gardiner appeared for an inquiry by the state Judicial Qualifications Commission in 2008, she failed to disclose the true nature of the relationship, the court recounted. Her testimony would leave any reasonable person with the wrong impression that her relationship with Scheinberg was merely professional.

It was not until the Broward state attorney’s office hired a special prosecutor for Loureiro’s appeal that Gardiner appeared for a deposition in 2009, two years after Loureiro’s trial, and admitted for the first time an ongoing emotional relationship with Scheinberg.

“Significantly, we note that Loureiro was a capital first-degree murder case in which Gardiner could and did impose the ultimate sentence of death,” the court said. “The special prosecutor concluded that Gardiner’s misconduct tainted the proceeding to such an extent that Gardiner’s decision to impose the death sentence could not stand.”

The court concluded “there is no dispute that the communications between Gardiner and Scheinberg did not pertain to the Loureiro case,” but the appearance of impropriety was so strong that her actions similarly harmed the judicial process in the way ex parte communications would.

“Considering Gardiner’s dishonest conduct during the trial and in her subsequent testimony before the JQC and the impact of her actions on the administration of justice in a death penalty case, we conclude that disbarment is the appropriate sanction.”

Gardiner was represented by Fort Lauderdale attorney J. David Bogenschutz of Bogenschutz, Dutko & Kroll.