Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel has resigned amid an investigation by the state Judicial Qualifications Commission, which examines allegations of misconduct by state jurists.
An undated letter to Gov. Rick Scott lists May 31 as the judge’s last on the bench.
“It has been an honor for me to serve the people of Miami-Dade County these past nearly 16 years,” Zabel said in a statement Wednesday to the Daily Business Review. “Although I will miss seeing my colleagues and the families who come before me every day, I am looking forward to starting a new season in my legal career. … I will continue to make a difference for our community. This is the right time for me.”
Zabel leaves office months after Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Public Corruption Task Force charged her husband with four felonies, but declined to prosecute her over a land deal that cost an investor $150,000, according to a close-out memo issued by prosecutors.
Her resignation from the bench ends the JQC investigation. But as an attorney, Zabel could still be subject to disciplinary proceedings by the Florida Bar.
“Judge Zabel is one of the truest public servants we’ve had in Miami,” the judge’s lawyer, Markus/Moss criminal defense attorney A. Margot Moss, said Wednesday. ”She will be greatly missed on the bench.”
The close-out memo shows the State Attorney’s Office began investigating Zabel in 2014 when it uncovered documents showing multiple money order and cashier’s checks purchased in the judge’s name.
Investigators say the buyer made the purchases minutes apart on the same day, but at different locations, and later used the money orders and checks to pay Zabel’s American Express and Discover credit cards. They say Zabel’s husband, former North Miami Beach Mayor Myron Rosner, provided a voluntary sworn statement in which he said the money came from a Canadian inheritance.
But prosecutors allege the money came from an investment into Retail 135 LLC, a company that listed the judge as a managing member and sold shares to investor David Rosenbaum for $150,000.
Retail 135 was supposed to purchase 2.2 acres of vacant land for a commercial real estate project, but investigators say its bank account had only $350 less than five months after Rosenbaum’s investment.
“Both Zabel and Rosner went to TD Bank to open the corporate account for Retail 135 LLC. The bank representative who opened the account verififed Zabel’s identity using her driver’s license, and wrote Zabel’s number on the application,” Assistant State Attorney Luis Perez-Medina wrote in the memo closing the criminal investigation. “She also had both Rosner and Zabel sign the deposit slip for the $150,000.”
But the judge provided a sworn affidavit denying any knowledge of Rosenbaum’s investment, and said she “did not remember going to TD Bank to open the Retail 135 bank account,” according to prosecutors.
The State Attorney’s Office charged Rosner with securities fraud, grand theft, securities sale by an unregistered dealer and sale of an unregistered security, but brought no criminal charges against Zabel.
“The investigation of Zabel was closed without arrest, since the state would have difficulty providing that she participated or aided in the sale of the security to Dr. Rosenbaum, or that she had knowledge of what Rosner was going to do with the money after it was deposited in Retail 135 LLC,” Perez-Medina wrote.
News of Zabel’s departure came in a notice from the Miami-Dade Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission announcing its search for her replacement on the circuit bench.
Zabel grabbed national headlines in 2014 when she lifted a temporary ban on same-sex marriage, and helped make Miami-Dade Florida’s first county to introduce marriage equality.
The judge serves in Miami-Dade Circuit’s family division, where she has presided over child-support enforcement cases and other civil litigation. She rose to the bench after being first elected in November 2002, and ran unopposed in 2014 for a new six-year term that had been set to expire in January 2021.
Rosner’s defense attorney, Benedict Kuehne, told the Daily Business Review in October that his client intended to fight the charges, and that the case was a civil dispute not deserving criminal prosecution.
“Mr. Rosner is litigating the investor in civil court and is outraged that the state attorney is attempting to collect a disputed debt on the investor’s behalf,” Kuehne said at the time.