Saturday, January 20, 2018

Key West judge retires, lamenting privacy invasion

KEY WEST — A judge in the Florida Keys said his decision to retire early came after an "inappropriate invasion of my privacy."

Judge David Audlin announced in April that he was retiring with four years left on his term. Friday was the Monroe County chief circuit judge's last day.

A blogger found a profile for Audlin in January on Manhunt, a website that bills itself as the world's biggest gay hookup site, the Miami Herald reported. The next day, a website called Above the Law posted a story about the blog.

Audlin, 56, did nothing illegal and no one has called on him to resign. But Audlin said that after contemplating the matter for several months, he decided to return to private practice.

"I'm looking forward to my constitutional rights being restored — my right to privacy and to be left alone in my private life," he said Friday.

Audlin said he has never tried to hide his sexuality.

"I've been out since I was 23," he said. "And as an attorney and running as a judge, I never hid it. But I never made it an issue. It's just part of who I am."

He also contended that a judge's personal life should be kept off limits unless it interferes with his or her ability to be fair and professional.

"I think some people look at a gay judge's personal life as being interesting or salacious," he said. "I suppose it's the times we live in. This whole matter has nothing to do with my service to the people or my work as a judge."

Many in the Keys law community commended his tenure. His most significant decision was a ruling in 2008 that the 1977 ban on adoption by gays and lesbians was unconstitutional.

"Disqualifying every gay Floridian from raising a family, enjoying grandchildren or carrying on the family name, based on nothing more than lawful sexual conduct, while assuring child abusers, terrorists, drug dealers, rapists and murderers receive at least individualized consideration" is so "disproportionately severe" that it violates the state and U.S. constitutions, he wrote.

"He had the profound courage to make a decision that dramatically changed my life and the life of my son," said Key West lawyer Wayne Larue Smith, a party in the case along with his partner, Daniel Skahen.

Smith and Skahen became the first openly gay couple to adopt a child in Florida as a result of the ruling.

Gov. Rick Scott will appoint a judge to fill the vacancy.

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