The state Judicial Qualifications Commission charged Broward Circuit Judge Ernest Kollra with ethics violations Friday for telling a crowd that he had received a Democratic group’s endorsement and telling the Sun Sentinel editorial board he was a registered Republican — all in a nonpartisan race.
The JQC said Kollra attended a judicial candidate forum last June, which was promoted as an endorsement event for the Dolphin Democrats political organization. The group later endorsed Kollra, who shared this fact in a speech at another forum led by the Hills Democratic Club.
Kollra told JQC investigators that as soon as he left the stage, another judicial candidate pointed out that he “probably shouldn’t have said that,” and Kollra agreed in hindsight.
With the editorial board, Kollra realized his mistake soon after he made it when his opponent Alan B. Schneider opted not to disclose his party affiliation. Though that detail wasn’t published, Canons 7C and 7D of the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct prohibit judges from taking partisan stances.
JQC attorney Alex Williams declined to comment on the case.
Kollra and his attorney, Kevin Tynan of Richardson & Tynan in Tamarac, did not respond to requests for comment by deadline.
Florida judges normally take pains to steer clear of politics and hot-button issues to avoid the appearance of partisanship. Their campaign material rarely goes beyond family pictures, basic biographical material and platitudes.
This is the first time Kollra, a longtime real estate attorney, has been in ethical hot water since he was admitted to the bar in 1978 and appointed to the bench in 2016. He doesn’t contest the charges and apologized for his inappropriate conduct, according to the JQC’s stipulation.
The stipulation signed Thursday by Kollra said he “has expressed remorse and regrets that his use of the partisan political endorsements called into question the impartiality and integrity of the nonpartisan judicial elections.”
The court-appointed referee, Palm Beach Circuit Judge Krista Marx, recommended a public reprimand for Kollra.
“In spite of his being a new to the bench, and new to elections, it is incumbent upon him to follow the canons,” Marx wrote.
Kollra, who has 20 days to file a response, was campaigning for the first time in Florida’s most heavily Democratic district.
Newly elected Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has been criticized for partisanship after suspending Broward Sheriff Scott Israel, an elected Democrat. Weeks after the November election, then-Gov. Rick Scott removed Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes, another elected Democrat, from office.
Read the referee’s findings: