Judge faces ethics charges for reality TV show featuring courtroom domestic violence cases

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A judge in Miami-Dade County, Florida, is facing ethics charges for allowing the producers of a reality TV show to film actual domestic violence cases in her courtroom.

Judge Carroll Kelly of the 11th Judicial Circuit in Florida is accused of several ethical missteps in connection with the syndicated show called Protection Court, report the Daily Business Review, Law360, the Washington Post and the Miami Herald.

Cases featured on the show included a man who claimed that his girlfriend attacked him with Mace, a woman allegedly attacked by her mother, a man who allegedly stalked his ex-girlfriend, and a man accused of threatening to kill his brother and niece.

According to the May 6 notice of charges by the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission, Kelly “lent the prestige” of her judicial office “to advance the private interests” of herself or others.

Kelly gave litigants minimal notice that they would be asked to sign waivers in which they agreed not to sue for defamation, invasion of privacy, infliction of emotional distress and other torts, according to the commission. Specifically, litigants were presented with the release shortly before entering the courtroom, the commission said.

Even litigants who didn’t agree to appear in the show were still filmed, the commission said.

Litigants who signed the release agreed to pay attorney fees and costs incurred by the show’s producer for any claims brought despite the release.

The commission also claimed that Kelly made misleading statements to her chief judge that she had obtained assurances that participating in the show would not violate judicial ethics rules. Kelly also was accused of misrepresenting her authority to stop production of the show by telling the investigative panel that she had “final approval of anything” in connection with the show.

According to the Miami Herald, Kelly had obtained a September 2018 ethics opinion regarding the show. The opinion by the Florida Supreme Court’s Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee said no judicial canons specifically address the topic of whether judges may permit court cases to be filmed and televised on a weekly basis.

Televised courtroom coverage of judicial proceedings is governed by Florida rules of judicial administration, the court said. The rules allow cameras subject to control by the presiding judge.

The issue “is a matter of judicial administration, rather than judicial ethics,” the ethics opinion said.

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