Legal Ethics

Judge who called state position a 'lie from the pit of hell' faces ethics charges

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A Florida judge is facing ethics charges after calling the state position in an appeal seeking his recusal a “lie from the pit of hell.”

Judge John Patrick Contini’s troubles began when he offered email advice to an assistant public defender and then criticized prosecutors who sought his recusal, calling them “idiots,” according to the Nov. 23 complaint (PDF) by the Judicial Qualifications Commission. The Daily Business Review (sub. req.), the Sun Sentinel and the Tampa Bay Times have stories.

According to the complaint, Contini, a judge with the Broward circuit court, emailed another judge’s order to an assistant public defender in March 2015. “Sam, fyi, see the Palm Beach judge’s order re downward departures generally, not regarding any particular cases,” Contini wrote. “Hopefully, you can perfect your own motions for downward departure (when you believe appropriate) using the excellent research you’ve already begun, and perhaps some of the judge’s order and perhaps the cases she relied on as well.”

The assistant PD forwarded the email to others in the office, one of whom recognized an ethical duty to provide the correspondence to prosecutors, the commission said. The state attorney’s office responded with a request asking the judge to disqualify himself, which the judge denied. Prosecutors appealed, resulting in a stay placed on hundreds of cases in Contini’s criminal division. The state attorney general’s office filed a brief supporting the prosecutors.

Contini criticized the appeal during in-courtroom discussions. According to the complaint, he called the attorney general’s submission “misleading” and “disingenuous,” and said the lawyers handling the appeal were “idiots.”

Contini accepted a plea in one criminal case, despite the stay, saying the list of cases on which the stay was based was “a lie from the pit of hell,” a phrase he used more than once, the commission said.

Contini also criticized an assistant attorney general who put the list together and demanded to know whether an assistant state attorney, Joel Silvershein, had helped. When Silvershein refused to answer, Contini ordered bailiffs to escort Silvershein from the courtroom. Silvershein finally acknowledged he had assisted the assistant attorney general.

Contini requested a transfer to the family court division in August, and the appeals court lifted the stay.

Contini’s lawyer, Bruce Rogow, told the Daily Business Review he was disappointed in the decision to file charges.

“I had hoped that they would recognize his momentary conduct—in the context of thousands of interactions with assistant state attorneys, private counsel, public defenders, defendants, court personnel and the public—did not merit this action,” Rogow told the publication. “He is a mensch. The attempt to recuse him from all criminal cases was unnecessarily overbroad, and the proceedings in the Fourth DCA confirmed that. It is too bad that they have led to a JQC proceeding.”

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