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August 1, 2005
A Broward County judge has been reprimanded, fined, and suspended for two weeks by the Supreme Court for sending an anonymous e-mail to a fellow judge that was deemed to threaten political retaliation and also sending a copy to the Broward County Hispanic Bar Association.
Diaz must also make a "complete and public apology" to County Judge Lee Seidman and the president of the Hispanic bar, the court decided. The e-mails suggested Seidman was reporting illegal immigrants to federal authorities.
In January 2004, Diaz sent an anonymous e-mail to another county judge, which included a story about a circuit judge who had been criticized for reporting illegal aliens to the U.S. Immigration Service when he learned they were appearing before him in his courtroom. The electronic missive also said, “Isn’t this what you used to do in Hollywood (Florida)? We remember.”
Diaz also anonymously sent the newspaper article to the then-president of the local Hispanic Bar Association with a message raising questions about Seidman's conduct.
In the subsequent JQC investigation, Judge Diaz waived the right to a trial, stipulated to the JQC’s facts, and accepted its recommended discipline of a two-week suspension without pay, a $15,000 fine, and a public reprimand, as well as an apology to the recipient judge and the Broward County Hispanic Bar Association.
Seidman, in a prepared statement that he would not elaborate on, said: "The issue has been resolved by the Florida Supreme Court. I will accept Judge Diaz's apology in the manner and spirit it is to be given. I look forward to working with Judge Diaz as a colleague on the bench in the years ahead."
In its report to the court, the JQC wrote, “The panel takes a very dim view of the conduct of the respondent in this matter, which involves a serious offense. He in fact sent an implied threat of organized group retaliation because of alleged actions of a fellow judge, and to exacerbate matters sent a copy to a local ethnic bar association. Such conduct is deplorable, and were it not for the respondent’s lack of prior disciplinary history and his acknowledgment of his conduct, the panel would consider forwarding this matter for trial and a more severe penalty. The period of suspension would be greater but for the burden placed on the respondent’s colleagues.”
The agreement Diaz reached with the commission did not specify which judicial canons he violated, but a five-member majority of the Supreme Court panel said he had violated the Code of Judicial Conduct.
The “Cannons” prohibit judges from making threatening or disparaging remarks about other judges and people in general. It also requires judges to respect and follow the law and to act in ways that assure the public that they are impartial and have integrity.
They also must not allow personal, family, social or political relationships to influence their conduct.
Justice Raoul Cantero and Chief Justice Barbara Pariente disagreed with the majority's decision in a 9 1/2-page dissent.
Cantero wrote that Diaz's actions did not violate any canon of judicial conduct and "even if they did, the discipline is much too severe compared to other cases." The two justices said they would have recommended that Diaz just get a written reprimand. Ileana Almeida, president of the Broward County Hispanic Bar Association, said the organization respects the Supreme Court's decision but is "more in agreement" with the dissent by Cantero and Pariente.
"We feel the disciplinary action was harsh against Judge Diaz," Almeida said.
The organization never asked Diaz to apologize to its president, as required by the ruling.
Almeida said she assumed Diaz had good intentions, adding she never had any problems with Seidman or Diaz, According to the Sun Sentinel.
The court majority in its per curiam opinion noted that the JQC did not specify any violations of the judicial canons but noted, “by his stipulation and agreement, it appears that Judge Diaz has conceded he violated the broad provisions of Canon 1 and Canon 2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct, which can be construed to prohibit judges from making threatening or disparaging remarks about other judges or parties in the manner involved herein. These canons broadly prohibit conduct unbecoming a judicial officer.”
The majority also said, “It appears here that the commission’s concerns were not with the substance of the matters addressed by Judge Diaz, but rather with the fact that Judge Diaz acted anonymously and that his message could be construed as a threat . . .”
The opinion concluded, “Based upon our review, and because Judge Diaz admits to the wrongdoing and does not contest the commission’s findings in any respect, we conclude that the JQC’s findings are supported by clear and convincing evidence. Similarly, because Judge Diaz has expressly agreed to the recommended discipline both below and in this court, including the fine, suspension without pay, and a public reprimand, we accept and approve this discipline.”
The court said the publication of the opinion would serve as the reprimand.
Justices Charles Wells, Harry Lee Anstead, Fred Lewis, Peggy Quince, and Kenneth Bell concurred in the opinion.
Justice Raoul Cantero, joined by Chief Justice Barbara Pariente, dissented.
The court acted July 7, in Inquiry Concerning a Judge Re: Robert F. Diaz, case no. SC04-1845.
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