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December 18, 2014
Broward County Circuit Judge Cynthia Imperato was arrested for driving under the influence in Boca Raton last year, several hours after she left Maggiano’s restaurant after attending a meet-and-greet sponsored by the justice associations of Broward and Palm Beach counties.
“She had red, bloodshot, glassy eyes,” prosecutor Ari Goldberg told jurors. An off-duty officer stopped her after watching her white Mercedes Benz “swerve violently” all over the road. The officer remembered she had difficulty pulling her wallet out of her purse.
And when he asked for identification, she handed him her judicial badge, not her driver’s license, prosecutor Ari Goldberg said.
In addition to DUI, Imperato is charged with reckless driving.
Her legal troubles began at about 9:45 p.m. when a motorist called 911 to report he saw a white Mercedes Benz swerving uncontrollably on Federal Highway. (Video Below)
It culminated an hour later when she was pulled over by the cop on Palmetto Park Road. (Video Below)
Prosecutor Ari Goldberg said it is inconceivable that the motorist who called 911 and the cop saw two different white Mercedes being driven erratically. The license tag was the same. Further, he said, Imperato has made no claims that she stopped anywhere after leaving the networking event that featured an open bar.
Palm Beach County Court Judge Mark Eissey said it’s unusual to have a motorist charged with both DUI and reckless driving. But, he said, it would be up to the jury to decide. The trial is expected to wrap up today.
Published on Nov 7, 2013
The 911 call that landed Broward County Judge Cynthia Imperato behind bars for DUI, In Boca Raton Florida.
Police dashcam video of Broward Circuit Judge Cynthia Imperato's DUI arrest.
December 19, 2014
A Broward County judge accused of driving under the influence was found guilty Friday, but she won't spend any time behind bars.
Judge Cynthia Imperato was convicted by a Palm Beach County jury of DUI and reckless driving.
Palm Beach County Judge Mark Eissey sentenced Imperato to 20 days house arrest with a monitor to track her movements, 12 months’ probation, and $2,531 in fines and court costs, and other tough conditions.
Those include the loss of her driver's license for 12 months, 150 hours of community service, a device to be hooked up to her car that checks for alcohol use before the driver can turn the ignition, and attendance at two Alcoholics Anonymous meetings per week.
Imperato was arrested on a DUI charge in Boca Raton in November 2013. She refused to submit to a Breathalyzer or field-sobriety test.
During the trial, the prosecutors told the jury that Imperato's actions after she was pulled over "flashing" her law enforcement badge at the officer shows she was trying to avoid arrest.
"Why would she show a badge and tell him she's a judge?"
"She was hoping he would let her slide."
"I'm not doing anything until I talk to my lawyer," she told the arresting officer in a video from a camera mounted on the dashboard of a police car.
Imperato declined to comment after leaving the courtroom, but Defense attorneys Marc Shiner described her as being "devastated, not very happy about what happened, of course."
Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein, who has acknowledged his own history of substance abuse and recovery, said he hoped the conviction would serve as a wake-up call for Imperato, from which she can recover and thrive in the long run.
But as long as she is facing or serving a criminal sentence, he said, she cannot be trusted on the bench.
"There is too much pressure to curry favor with those who can hurt you," he said, referring to a judge's frequent interaction with police, prosecutors and probation officials.
Imperato was previously arrested on a DUI charge in Leon County in 1988.
APRIL 30, 2015
The Florida Supreme Court rejected a deal in which Broward Circuit Judge Cynthia Imperato, convicted of DUI and Reckless driving in Palm Beach County in December, would keep her job after paying a fine and serving a 20-day suspension.
A panel of the Judicial Qualifications Commission reached an agreement with Imperato last month, criticizing her for flashing her badge when she was stopped for drunk driving in Boca Raton on Nov. 5, 2013.
The panel called for a 20-day suspension without pay and a $5,000 fine, but Imperato would have held onto her job.
Imperato agreed to the punishment, but the Florida Supreme Court rejected those recommendations:
"The Court rejects the stipulation and disapproves the proposed sanctions," the court wrote in a one-page order. "We remand for further proceedings to include a full hearing before the Judicial Qualifications Commission so that the Court, in determining the appropriate sanction, will be apprised of all the facts and circumstances bearing on the violation."
The Judicial Qualifications Commission, which handles accusations of judicial misconduct, refrained from publicly disclosing any review of Imperato's actions until her misdemeanor DUI trial was over. Formal charges were announced on March 2, the same day the JQC announced its agreement with Imperato on a fine and suspension without pay.
It's not unusual for the Supreme Court to apply harsher-than-recommended penalties for judges or attorneys who run afoul of the Florida Bar or the Judicial Qualifications Commission.
After her arrest, Imperato was removed from criminal trials in Broward County and began handling foreclosure cases. She now handles other civil matters. She was appointed to the bench in 2003 by Governor Jeb Bush, and was most recently re-elected in 2010.
JANUARY 25, 2016
The state's highest court wants Broward Circuit Judge Cynthia Imperato to explain why she should be allowed to keep her job, and she has until the middle of next month to do it.
"This is to command you, the Honorable Cynthia Gelmine Imperato, to show cause why removal from office is not the appropriate sanction in this case," the order says. Imperato has until Feb. 15 to respond.
Imperato is facing sanctions stemming from her drunk driving arrest in Boca Raton in November 2013. The Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission cited her for the arrest and for refusing to cooperate with investigating officers, showing her judge's badge when asked for identification, and allowing her lawyers to call the officers' integrity into question leading up to her trial in late 2014.
Last March, the Judicial Qualifications Commission reached an agreement with Imperato to suspend her from her job without pay for 20 days.
The commission also acknowledged that Imperato's arrest was her second; she had been convicted of a DUI in 1988, before she was a lawyer.
But the Supreme Court rejected that deal and ordered a full hearing to determine more appropriate sanctions.
After she responds, the Judicial Qualifications Commission has until March 7 to make another recommendation.
Imperato then has until March 17th to respond.
A Supreme Court ruling could come any time after that.
Tuesday's order from the Supreme Court shows a reluctance to accept the commission's new recommendation. In previous cases, the court has asked judges to explain why recommended sanctions should not be imposed, but in Imperato's case, the court is asking her to defend against a stronger penalty.
FEBRUARY 10, 2016
Broward Circuit Judge Cynthia Imperato, who was facing disciplinary action from the state's Supreme Court over her conduct following a 2013 DUI arrest, will resign by the end of the month, Broward Chief Administrative Judge Peter Weinstein confirmed Tuesday.
In October, the Judicial Qualifications Commission recommended a three-month unpaid suspension and a fine of $20,000 as punishment for Imperato's refusal to cooperate with police who had pulled her over on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol in Boca Raton.
Imperato was later found guilty of DUI and sentenced to 20 days of house arrest, which she served last summer.
The Supreme Court appeared unsatisfied with that recommendation and ordered Imperato to give justices a reason she should be allowed to keep her job. She has until Monday to respond, but her resignation makes that unnecessary.
Imperato was a Tallahassee police officer who earned her law degree in 1989 from Florida State University. She went on to become an assistant statewide prosecutor from 1990 to 2003, when Governor Jeb Bush chose her to replace Circuit Judge Estella May Moriarty, who had resigned.
After her conviction, Imperato tried to work out a deal with the JQC to keep her job. The commission noted that Imperato had another DUI conviction in 1988, but recommended a 20-day suspension and fine.
The Supreme Court, which has final say on judicial discipline, rejected the deal, forcing Imperato to defend herself at a JQC panel hearing in West Palm Beach last September.
During that hearing, Judge Imperato apologized to the officers who questioned and arrested her but denied trying to get a break by showing her judge's badge. The recommendation for a three-month suspension came a month later.
Again, the Supreme Court balked, asking Judge Imperato to defend her right to stay on the job.
Last month, a lawyer for a woman in a drunk driving case criticized Imperato for sitting on a three judge panel that decided whether the woman's license should be suspended.
Imperato recused herself from the woman's case Tuesday.
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