Judge's response to noisy courthouse visitors leads to reprimand recommendation

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A Florida judge who waved his arms and shouted at noisy courthouse visitors, then threatened one lawyer in the crowd with contempt, is facing a recommendation for a public reprimand.

Judge David C. Miller of Miami’s 11th Judicial Circuit acknowledged in a July 24 stipulation that his conduct, in hindsight, was inappropriate and a violation of judicial ethics rules. He agreed with a July 24 recommendation for a public reprimand by the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission.

According to findings by an investigative panel, Miller was presiding over a tobacco-related civil trial Jan. 17 when the proceedings were continuously interrupted by loud noise in the lobby outside his courtroom. The source was a crowd congregating after the investiture of another judge.

Miller sent his bailiff to quiet the crowd, and when that didn’t work, he sent his bailiff and court clerk. That, too, was unsuccessful.

Miller then stepped into the lobby, while wearing his robe and accompanied by the bailiff. Witnesses reported that Miller yelled and waved his arms at people in the lobby while trying to get their attention. When that failed, Miller walked from group to group to explain that the noise was disturbing the trial in his courtroom.

One person shook her head at Miller, leading him to think that she was telling him that she would not cooperate with his attempt to quiet the people. Miller told the person, an assistant general counsel with the 11th Judicial Circuit, “Do not shake your head at me.” He twice threatened the woman with contempt, asking the person for her name and whether she was employed in the courthouse.

The commission said Miller had other options, such as taking a recess or calling the court administrator to ask for assistance. “The method he ultimately chose to employ reflected poorly on himself and the judiciary as a whole,” the commission said in its findings and recommendation.

The commission said it was particularly disturbed by Miller’s threat “to hold one of the people in the lobby in contempt for shaking her head in disbelief over Judge Miller’s behavior.”

The commission noted that Miller has no prior disciplinary record, and he cooperated during the disciplinary process. He also agreed to avoid contact with the courthouse employee he had threatened with contempt. Miller has been a judge since 2000.

Hat tip to Law360 and Law.com, which had coverage of the ethics case.

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