Howard Finkelstein (Melanie Bell)
A federal appeals court reinstated a forensic psychologist’s employment lawsuit claiming he was blacklisted by Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein after testifying in favor of a judge at her ethics hearing.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, while reversing summary judgment Wednesday in favor of the public defender, upheld the lower court decision that Finkelstein was individually immune from liability in the retaliation suit brought by psychologist Michael Brannon.
Brannon claims his consulting time was severely cut and he was later dropped after he testified at a state Judicial Qualifications Commission hearing for the late Broward Circuit Judge Cheryl Aleman.
Brannon’s lawsuit claims Finkelstein in a July 2009 office email said he wanted Brannon to professionally suffer a “death by 1000 invisible cuts” for his testimony.
Finkelstein on Wednesday disclosed he received word through another South Florida psychologist that Brannon said he would harm Finkelstein and his family.
“He said that he knew where Mr. Finkelstein’s gym is and when he attends there and that he would ‘get him,’ ” psychologist Judy Block-Garfield wrote in an affidavit.
“I’ve handled lots of heavy cases. I’ve dealt with irate police officers, victims, families clients. You develop a tougher skin,” Finkelstein said. “But this really shocked me. When I left the courthouse, I had to have somebody watch me to make sure I was OK.”
Finkelstein said Brannon’s hours were cut because of budget concerns, but he was eventually terminated after he started telling juries about his animosity toward Finkelstein and his office.
“He started bringing it into the courtroom where we had clients looking at life in imprisonment,” Finkelstein said.
Attorney William Amlong, a partner at the Amlong Firm in Fort Lauderdale, represents Brannon. The attorney dismissed the new allegations by Finkelstein. If true, Amlong wondered why Finkelstein didn’t file a police complaint or seek a mistrial in the cases where Brannon criticized Finkelstein.
Amlong said he looks forward to trying the case.
“This isn’t a case of mere infringement of free speech,” Amlong said. “This is a case about how everybody has a right and the duty to testify truthfully.”
Aleman was publicly reprimanded in 2009 by the Florida Supreme Court for exhibiting “arrogant, discourteous and impatient conduct” while presiding over her first death-penalty case. She died in 2010 from lung cancer.