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Osceola County circuit judge faces new ethics charges, including harassing women

TALLAHASSEE — An Osceola County judge is facing new state ethics charges of making unwelcome verbal advances and massaging, hugging and kissing female court employees.

Those allegations are included in one of eight additional misconduct charges against Circuit Judge N. James Turner filed Friday with the Florida Supreme Court.

An investigative panel of the state Judicial Qualifications Commission added those charges to six that previously accused Turner of partisan campaigning for the nonpartisan judgeship in 2008, including attendance at Democratic Party functions.

Other new allegations include representing his mother in a foreclosure proceeding while a judge, behaving erratically in court and improperly seizing jewelry from a child to cover court costs.

The accusations collectively constitute a pattern of misconduct that "raises serious questions" about Turner's fitness for office, the panel wrote.

Turner has 20 days to file a written response to the new allegations. He has denied the previous charges.

The commission has the authority to hold hearings and make disciplinary recommendations to the Supreme Court, including a recommendation of removal from office.

Chief Circuit Judge Belvin Perry removed Turner last month from judicial duties and placed him on a "period of unassignment" without explanation.

The charge alleging unwanted verbal advances and physical contact also accused Turner of lending money to the women, inviting himself to their homes and otherwise attempting to force himself into their private lives while creating a hostile environment at work.

Turner also is accused of publicly proclaiming that he was "the protector and advocate of women in Osceola County," taking cell phone calls on the bench and using his computer during court proceedings to view personal e-mail and a social networking site.

The panel also accused him of "unexpectedly and repeatedly leaving the bench unannounced and inappropriately berating and belittling court personnel."

Other new allegations include accepting a campaign contribution from his mother "far in excess" of the $500 legal limit and providing legal advice to former clients.

Osceola County circuit judge faces new ethics charges, including harassing women 05/14/10 [Last modified: Friday, May 14, 2010 9:44pm]
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