Legal Ethics

Ex-judge disbarred over relationship with prosecutor during murder trial in her court

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A former Florida judge is losing her license to practice law due to a secret “personal and emotional relationship” she had with a prosecutor trying a capital murder case in her court in 2007.

“Disbarment is the appropriate sanction” for former Broward Circuit Judge Ana Gardiner, because of her “dishonest conduct and the harm that her actions have caused to the administration of justice in a capital first-degree murder case,” said the state supreme court in an opinion (PDF) released Thursday. The disbarment takes effect in 30 days.

Gardiner and then-assistant state attorney Howard Scheinberg exchanged 949 cellphone calls and 471 texts between March 23, 2007, a few days before the jury found Omar Loureiro guilty, and Aug. 24, 2007, when she sentenced the defendant to death, the opinion says. However, she never disclosed the relationship—which a referee said actually began on March 27, 2007, the day Loureiro was convicted—to the defense in the case, “despite her clear duty to do so,” the supreme court pointed out.

The court also said Gardiner’s testimony in 2008 before a Judicial Qualifications Commission panel “failed to disclose the honest and true nature of her relationship with Scheinberg.” That resulted in an admonishment for the public social interaction between Gardiner and Scheinberg one night at a restaurant during the murder trial, the court noted.

Scheinberg was earlier suspended from practice for two years because of his relationship with Gardiner.

Gardiner initially avoided a renewed judicial ethics case by resigning from the bench in 2010. However, she was charged in an attorney ethics complaint in 2011 over her conduct while on the bench.

WPLG reports that Gardiner could not be reached for comment.

Loureiro, was granted a new trial after the relationship between the judge and Scheinberg came to light. Convicted a second time and sentenced to life, he was again granted a new trial last year. A state appeals court ruled that his confession should have been suppressed because his Miranda rights were violated, the Sun Sentinel reported at the time.

Hat tip: Sun Sentinel.

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