Hello and welcome to this JACPA Ethics Alert blog which discusses the Miami-Dade County Judge who was recently charged by the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission for using her judicial stationary to lend the prestige of her judicial office for a private interest and accepted improper campaign contributions.
The Notice of Formal Charges was filed on March 19, 2012 and states that a JQC panel found probable cause that a Miami-Dade County Judge violated Florida Judicial Canons when she sent correspondence on her judicial stationary to the Florida Division of Corporations which stated that a company called Florida Wellness & Rehabilitation Center had been inadvertently closed and should be reinstated, and attached a supporting affidavit. According to the Notice, the October 14, 2011 correspondence was sent on behalf of the company’s president, Mark Cereceda, who was a friend of the judge.
The Notice also alleges that the Division of Corporations considered the correspondence to be an Order and reinstated the corporation without a fee. According to the Notice, there was no legitimate judicial reason to send the correspondence and the judge’s use of judicial stationary constituted the “lending of prestige of judicial office to a private interest” as well as the practice of law, both of which are prohibited under the Code of Judicial Conduct. In addition, the Notice alleges that the judge had cases before her involving corporate entities associated with Mr. Cereceda when the correspondence was sent and that she received four campaign contributions for her re-election in the amount $500.00 from entities controlled by Mr. Cereceda.
The Notice also states that the Florida Supreme Court sanctioned the judge in 2005 with a public reprimand and a $25,000.00 fine for accepting illegal campaign contributions during her unsuccessful 1998 election campaign as well as her successful 2000 election. Under the JQC’s disciplinary procedures, the Notice constitutes formal charges against the judge, who may file a written answer within 20 days. If the judge is found guilty of the charges, she would be subject to removal from office “and/or any other appropriate discipline recommended by the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission.”
Bottom line: Although this Notice of Formal Charges does not constitute final findings of fact, guilt, and/or discipline, it again raises issues related to the election of judges who must solicit and rely upon contributions during their election campaigns. Unlike Florida Bar disciplinary matters, JQC proceedings are confidential and do not become public unless probable cause is found, which occurred here.
Be careful out there!
As always, if you have any questions about this Ethics Alert or need assistance, analysis, and guidance regarding these or any other ethics, risk management, or other issues, please do not hesitate to contact me.
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