Facing rare House impeachment probe, judge abruptly resigns
Duval Circuit Judge Mark Hulsey III, the subject of an investigation over allegations that he made sexist and racially insensitive comments from the bench, abruptly resigned his Jacksonville-area judgeship Monday on the eve of the start of a highly unusual impeachment investigation by the Legislature.
Hulsey, 66, was already the focus of a probe by the Judicial Qualifications Commission for having allegedly called a female staff attorney a "bitch" and a "c---" and for saying blacks should "get back on a ship and go back to Africa." He also was accused of using demeaning language toward women lawyers on his staff, comparing them to "cheerleaders who talk during the national anthem." According to the formal complaint against Hulsey, he tried to influence what his judicial assistant would tell the JQC in its investigation.
"Your conduct represents an interference with the JQC's inquiry process and your JA (judicial assistant) was temporarily resigned to prevent further interference," the JQC report said.
In all, Hulsey was accused of 18 separate violations of the Canons of Judicial Ethics and a violation of state election law, for claiming to have a number of endorsements without securing those endorsements in writing. Hulsey has disputed the allegations in filings with the Florida Supreme Court.
The JQC's notice of formal charges was filed with the court last July, but Hulsey narrowly won re-election to a six-year term even after the allegations received wide media attention in Jacksonville. The chief judge in the Jacksonville-area circuit is Mark Mahon, a former Republican member of the Florida House.
The House Public Integrity & Ethics Committee, which meets Tuesday in Tallahassee, had an unexplained item on its agenda entitled "actionable items: report on preliminary findings." A House investigator was to have presented a report on Hulsey's case and the panel's chairman, Rep. Larry Metz, R-Yalaha, was expected to seek a committee vote to subpoena a series of witnesses.
Hulsey short-circuited the Legislature's action by resigning.
"He resigned under the threat of the investigation," House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, said Monday. The Florida Times-Union reports that uncertainty over Hulsey's status as a judge has affected the court system's case backlog. Mahon reassigned Hulsey to probate cases after the case broke last summer.
Hulsey's resignation letter, sent Monday to Gov. Rick Scott by email and hand delivery, said: "I hereby tender my resignation as a judge of the Circuit Court of the State of Florida, Fourth Judicial Circuit, Group 25, effective this 23rd day of January, 2017 at 10:15 a.m." He added: "It has been an honor and privilege to serve the people of the state of Florida."
It has been nearly 40 years since the Florida Legislature impeached a judge for improper behavior. The last judge to be removed from the bench by the Legislature was Sam Smith, a circuit judge in Lake City, who was tossed in 1978 following his conviction in a marijuana conspiracy case in North Florida.