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Court enters judicial quarrel

TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Supreme Court has asked a judicial panel to explain why it filed ethics charges, apparently for the first time in the state's history, against a judge over what he wrote in an opinion.

The justices issued the order Friday to the Judicial Qualifications Commission. First District Court of Appeal Judge Michael Allen last week asked the high court to halt disciplinary proceedings against him that stemmed from the bribery case of former Florida Senate President W.D. Childers.

Brooke Kennerly, the commission's executive director, declined to comment Monday, saying the panel doesn't usually discuss pending cases.

The commission investigates complaints against judges, files charges if merited, holds hearings and then makes recommendations to the Supreme Court. Allen is set for a hearing June 9.

He is accused of conduct unbecoming a judge for criticizing a fellow appellate judge, Charles Kahn, and then lying under oath by saying he had no animosity toward Kahn.

The complaint stems from Allen's concurring opinion that questioned Kahn's failure to withdraw from Childers' appeal. Allen suggested Kahn had a conflict because he is a former law partner to Fred Levin, a friend of — and at times lawyer for — Childers.

The appellate court in 2006 upheld Childers' conviction and 3 1/2-year prison sentence related to his later position as an Escambia County commissioner in Pensacola.

Kahn dissented. At the time he declined to comment directly on Allen's opinion. He said he knew Childers but never had a social or business relationship with him.

Allen's lawyers argued in papers filed with the Supreme Court last week that punishing a judge for what he wrote in an appellate opinion would violate common law tradition.

There's no precedent for doing that in Florida or anywhere else in the United States, Allen's lawyers argued. The only case they could find was a 1982 Montana Supreme Court decision that rejected a complaint against an appellate judge for writing his colleagues were "intellectually dishonest." The Montana justices noted "nearly every day newspaper editors say something equally derogatory about our decisions."

The Florida case focuses on Allen's reliance on newspaper articles about Childers' collaboration with Levin and then-Gov. Lawton Chiles to pass legislation that helped the state win a multibillion-dollar settlement with the tobacco industry. The commission charged the articles were outside the court record and not verified.

Allen's lawyers, though, argued there's nothing wrong with that and listed several Florida and U.S. Supreme Court opinions that included information from newspaper articles.

They also argued the case should be halted because none of Allen's colleagues, including Kahn, had complained to the commission. The only complaint came from Martin Levin, Fred Levin's son, Allen's lawyers wrote.

Court administrators and 13 of Kahn's 15 colleagues, meanwhile, accused him of sexually harassing female court workers, but the panel dismissed those complaints.

Court enters judicial quarrel 04/07/08 [Last modified: Monday, April 7, 2008 10:56pm]
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