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Orange-Osceola judge accused of boorish behavior

ORLANDO — For the second time in as many months, a state agency has slapped Orange-Osceola Circuit Judge N. James Turner with a new set of charges, this time accusing him of boorish behavior.

The new allegations, made public Friday, accuse the judge, who serves in Kissimmee, of screaming at the women in his office and the people in his courtroom, showing off his pistol and putting his feet on the bench during hearings.

Turner, 64, was elected circuit judge in 2008. The next year, the state agency that polices judges, the Judicial Qualifications Commission, filed its first set of formal charges against him: improper politicking.

It accused him of publicly supporting Democratic candidates during his campaign, something that judicial candidates are banned from doing. Their campaigns are to be nonpartisan.

He's still battling those charges, but last month, the JQC added more, this time accusing him of salacious and quirky behavior.

Turner, it alleged, sexually harassed several women at the Osceola County Courthouse by kissing, massaging and hugging them. Some complained of him trying to have outside-of-work relationships, according to JQC pleadings.

He also took cell phone calls, looked at Facebook and sent e-mail during court, the commission alleged in last month's revised complaint. He also served as his mother's attorney in a Miami-Dade foreclosure case — judges are banned from private practice — and ordered court personnel to seize a child's jewelry to cover court costs during a hearing, that set of charges allege.

Without a public explanation, Chief Judge Belvin Perry Jr. in April ordered Turner to stop coming to work. A few weeks later, the JQC filed the sexual harassment allegations.

Turner, who lives in downtown Orlando, hasn't been to court since Perry's order but continues to draw his paycheck, $142,000 a year.

Four women at the Osceola County Courthouse have accused him of sexual harassment — two of whom used to work there as his secretary, also called judicial assistant.

Although he served only 16 months before Perry banned him from work, Turner has had four judicial assistants, One worked for 21/2 months and quit. The woman who succeeded her held the job for four months then transferred to another court job, according to court personnel records.

Turner's current judicial assistant, Ida Arredondo, who worked with him from January to April, said she had no problems with him.

Defense attorney Barry Rigby on Friday said Turner sexually harassed no one. The judge may have been "too friendly," Rigby said, but overall, "he wants to be a sweetheart. He wants to be loved by everybody."

The allegations about inappropriate conduct around women popped up only after the judge loaned money to one of the women and wasn't repaid, Rigby said.

"When he asked about it, everything turned ugly," Rigby said.

After the sexual harassment charges were filed last month, Turner said, "I've made some mistakes, but not in the area of treatment of people. … I'm going to fight it."

Turner is not a screamer, Rigby said, but "is a little bit brusque," and the judge never pulled his gun from its holster. Turner carried a pistol, Rigby said, because he had seen other judges with them and it "seemed like a prudent thing to do."

Orange-Osceola judge accused of boorish behavior 06/18/10 [Last modified: Friday, June 18, 2010 10:46pm]
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