House panel critical of court over JQC case.


For the second time in a month, a Florida House committee has received a scathing report about a pending Judicial Qualifications Commission proceeding against a sitting judge, including hints that an impeachment proceeding may be in the offing.

In the first case, Fourth Circuit Judge Mark Hulsey resigned in January the day before the House Public Integrity and Ethics Committee was set to look into charges pending at the JQC that he misused law clerks, used his judicial assistant for personal tasks, and made racially charged statements.

On February 14 the committee heard a report on the case against Third Circuit Judge Andrew J. Decker III, who has been subject of a JQC inquiry since 2013, stemming from his actions as an attorney before being elected to the bench in 2012 and violations of judicial canons governing campaign activities.

(Hulsey's case had not been adjudicated by the JQC's hearing panel; for Decker the JQC had recommended discipline to the Supreme Court.)

Committee Chair Rep. Larry Metz, R-Groveland, said the committee was exercising its oversight of another branch, including why the Supreme Court has not acted more than a year after it received responses to its last show cause order.

"It's a very long time to have a judge being under that type of order and having no final action occur," he said. "It gives you a feel why we're concerned about this, why we feel this is taking too long and needs to be brought to a conclusion. This is part of our oversight function, shining a light on something we feel may not be right."

Carine Mitz, a staff attorney for the committee, noted in March 2015 the Supreme Court entered a show cause order why it should not approve the JQC s findings and recommended discipline for Decker of a 90-day suspension without pay and a public reprimand.

After the responses were filed in May, the court entered another show cause order in November 2015, asking why Decker's discipline should not be more severe, including perhaps removal from office.

Responses were filed by February 2016, and the court has not yet acted, Mitz said. She noted that the Rules of Judicial Administration has a goal of 180 days for deciding cases on appeal after completion of briefing or oral arguments, which the court failed to achieve both on its first and second show cause orders.

She said JQC findings on Decker included:

* During a televised debate in his judicial campaign, Decker claimed he had never been charged with a conflict of...

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