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The Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission has offered a County Court judge in Fort Lauderdale a deal to settle allegations that he violated the judicial code by sending a hostile e-mail to a fellow judge, according to sources who did not want to be identified. The JQC’s offer calls for Broward County Court Judge Robert F. Diaz to admit responsibility and accept a 30-day suspension, a public reprimand and a $7,500 fine. Diaz also would have to apologize in writing to fellow County Court Judge Lee Jay Seidman and the Broward Hispanic Bar Association. Diaz declined comment, and his Fort Lauderdale, Fla., attorney, James M. Stark, did not return calls seeking comment. Judge Seidman’s Fort Lauderdale attorney, J. David Bogenschutz, said he was unaware of the JQC’s offer to Diaz. It has not been revealed what specific judicial conduct rules Diaz is accused of violating. Three of the seven canons, however, could be applicable. Those canons require judges to uphold the integrity of the judiciary, avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety and regulate their extra-judicial duties to minimize the risk of conflict with judicial duties. Judge Seidman received an anonymous e-mail on Jan. 19, read the contents the next day and called the police. The e-mail contained a Jan. 18 Palm Beach Post story about Palm Beach Circuit Judge Roger B. Colton’s controversial practice of notifying the U.S. Border Patrol about illegal immigrants who appeared before him in criminal court. The article quoted immigrant advocates who accused Colton of abusing his authority, and Colton’s rebuttal that he felt obliged to report lawbreaking. The e-mail to Judge Seidman that accompanied the Post article asked, “Isn’t that what you used to do in Hollywood? We remember.” The sender was identified only as [email protected] Seidman worked as a criminal traffic judge at the county’s Hollywood, Fla., satellite courthouse in 2002 and 2003. He’s currently assigned to the domestic violence division at the main courthouse in downtown Fort Lauderdale. Seidman denies ever informing on illegal aliens in his court, Bogenschutz said. A similar e-mail was sent on Jan. 19 to then-Broward Hispanic Bar Association president Catalina Z. Avalos. Avalos, who could not be reached for comment, is a Broward assistant state attorney. At the time the e-mail was sent, Judge Seidman was facing the possibility of a re-election campaign. In May, however, Seidman, who had built up a big campaign war chest, won a new term automatically when no one filed to oppose him. Avalos was one of Seidman’s contributors. Seidman considered the e-mail hostile and possibly threatening. He asked the Broward Sheriff’s Office to investigate. The BSO quickly traced the e-mail to Judge Diaz. Two days after the Miami Herald broke the story on Jan. 31, Diaz took a two-week paid leave. Broward State Attorney Michael Satz asked Gov. Jeb Bush to appoint a special prosecutor, and the case was referred to Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle and her public corruption chief, Joseph Centorino. Centorino declined comment, but sources said his probe is winding down without any plans to bring criminal charges against Diaz. Negotiations between the JQC and Diaz about a possible suspension appear to be under way. If Diaz takes the deal, the JQC would recommend it to the Florida Supreme Court, which makes the final determination in matters of judicial discipline. If suspended, Diaz would be the first Broward judge to suffer such discipline as a result of a JQC inquiry. Three other Broward judges have received stiffer punishment for alleged misconduct since the JQC was established as an independent watchdog in the Florida Constitution in 1968. They are County Court Judge June Laran Johnson, removed in 1996 for backdating driving under the influence cases; County Court Judge Irwin Berkowitz, removed in 1988 for practicing law after he became a judge and for misuse of trust funds; and Circuit Judge Stewart LaMotte, removed for misuse of a state credit card in 1977.

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