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5 Miami Judges Disciplined By JQC
Five South Florida Miami judges admit to ethics charges for using their judicial office to favor a particular company during a competitive bidding process for the Florida Department of Children and Families.
Miami-Dade Judges Marcia Caballero, Rosa Figarola, Teresa Pooler, Mavel Ruiz and now retired Judge Cindy Lederman are defendants in a new judicial ethics case before the Florida Supreme Court.
The Florida JQC, (Judicial Qualifications Commission), opened the investigation into the judges for allegedly endorsing contractor Our Kids of Miami-Dade & Monroe Inc. in a competitive bidding process to secure vending services for the Florida Department of Children and Families.
As noted by the JQC, Our Kids is a nonprofit that has served as the lead agency in DCF’s community-based care in South Florida for several years.
There was only one other bidder, Citrus Health Network, Inc.
The DCF vendor contract is worth about $500 million.
The JQC recommended that the Miami-Dade judges, one has since retired, be issued a written public reprimand for signing a letter to the state Department of Children & Families last year endorsing an agency re-bidding for the state contract.
In it, they and two other members of the judiciary urged the DCF to re-award the lucrative, five-year contract to Our Kids, the longtime provider for foster children in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.
The JQC panel said the letter, signed and sent on official judicial letterhead, was “inappropriate, and damaged the public’s perception of impartiality in the judiciary.”
The findings of the investigative panel of the state Judicial Qualifications Commission said the judges “were not motivated by any corrupt intent or design” but that they inappropriately weighed in on behalf of Our Kids as it sought a contract to serve as a lead agency for community-based care in South Florida.
“Judges have valuable knowledge and insight into the court system, and they should be allowed and encouraged to share that knowledge,” the JQC said. “However, such conversations and communications must adhere to the (judicial) canons. In this case, the judges’ letter crossed the line from informational, to advocacy in favor of one competitive bidder over another.”
Citrus won in the months-long process last year by a 10-1 vote, but these allegations forced the Department of Children & Families to throw out the first vote and repeat the selection this spring, with Citrus again chosen as the winner this past April.
The Florida Supreme Court has the final say about this, as the JQC can only investigate and recommend, but our guess they will go along with it, and just issue a written reprimand.