Former Broward Judge John Patrick Contini. Photo: Melanie Bell/ALM
A screenshot of a conversation between Contini and his judicial assistant.
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Stephen Millan will step down Aug. 3 amid a JQC ethics probe into allegations he used the derogatory term "moolie" to refer to a black defendant, and later referred to black witnesses and family members in his courtroom as "thugs."
Miami-Dade County Judge Maria Ortiz is facing ethics charges for accepting free hotel stays offered to her husband and former director of Miami Beach's building department, Mariano Fernandez, who is charged with felony counts for speeding up city permits in exchange for gifts. The Florida Supreme Court in June rejected a stipulated settlement. (Photo: Aixa Montero Holt)
Palm Beach County Court Judge Dana Santino found herself in hot water with the JQC over her advertising tactics against her opponent in the 2016 judicial election. Santino was removed from her post on July 2, when the high court ordered her to step down from the bench.
Miami-Dade County Court Judge Deborah White-Labora, a pioneering drug court jurist, faces disciplinary action for allegedly violating Canons 1 and 2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct. The judge wrote a character reference on behalf of a defendant awaiting sentencing.
Five of the six ethics cases pending before Florida’s Judicial Qualifications Commission involve sitting or former South Florida jurists.
Here’s a look at those facing ethics charges.
Former Broward Judge John Patrick Contini resigned from his post on July 6 amid allegations he had his judicial assistant create fake dockets to enable him to miss work.
Screenshots of emails and text messages show Contini asking the assistant to perform duties outside her job description, including doing his personal banking and handling travel arrangements.
“Huge favor,” Contini wrote his assistant in one message asking her to contact a creditor about a mix-up with his credit card, according to an email attached to a JQC court filing.
In a rare move, the JQC brought charges against the former jurist after he had stepped down from the bench, accusing him of violating 10 canons of the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct. It then voluntarily dismissed the case on Aug. 3.
The JQC had claimed Contini missed more than 30 days of work without informing Chief Judge Jack Tuter.
Also facing JQC charges: former Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Stephen Millan, who is set to step down on Aug. 3. Millan resigned amid allegations he directed racial slurs at black defendants who appeared in his courtroom. The JQC charged that he used the derogatory term “moolie” in reference to a black defendant, and that he later referred to black witnesses and family members in his courtroom as “thugs.”
Miami-Dade County Judge Maria Ortiz is also facing ethics charges. The JQC alleged she accepted free hotel stays offered to her husband, Mariano Fernandez, the former director of Miami Beach’s building department. Fernandez faces corruption charges for allegedly accepting gifts to speed up city permits for the RIU Hotel Group.
Palm Beach County Judge Dana Santino found herself in hot water with the JQC over her advertising tactics against her opponent in the 2016 judicial election. According to the JQC’s complaint, one of Santino’s advertisements described her opponent’s practice as “limited to criminal defense — representing murderers, rapists, child molesters and other criminals.” She was removed from her post on July 2, when the high court ordered her to step down from the bench.
The JQC has also charged Miami-Dade County Court Judge Deborah White-Labora, accusing the drug court pioneer of violating Canons 1 and 2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct by writing a character reference letter in support of a defendant before his sentencing.
“In my opinion, he is someone who can and will learn from his mistakes,” White-Labora wrote about the defendant, Sam Konell.
Reports against jurists made to the JQC are confidential and can stem from several sources, including citizen complaints, court opinions, news reports, law enforcement and from within the courthouse.