TALLAHASSEE — A judge on trial for criticizing another judge in a written opinion. Judges calling each other liars, unbalanced, sleazy. Affairs between a judge and court personnel.
The Judicial Qualifications Commission trial against 1st District Court of Appeal Judge Michael E. Allen has had it all, and Wednesday's closing arguments brought more: Allen's attorney said the case is politically motivated, by another judge angling to be appointed to the Florida Supreme Court.
A six-member JQC panel headed by Broward Circuit Judge Paul Backman began deliberating Allen's fate Wednesday, but the verdict won't become public until formal orders are completed, in weeks or months.
Allen's trial included testimony about the bribery conviction of former Senate President W.D. Childers, widely known trial lawyer Fred Levin of Pensacola and the volatile relationships among the 15 judges on the state's biggest and busiest appellate court.
The JQC has charged Allen with conduct unbecoming a judge and lying to its investigators when he denied acting with animosity toward a fellow judge. If convicted, Allen could be reprimanded, fined or removed from office.
No judge in Florida ever has been disciplined for something he wrote in a court opinion, but the JQC has accused Allen of acting out of hatred for Judge Charles J. Kahn Jr.
Allen's opinion suggested that Kahn, a former Levin law partner and Childers' friend, should not have participated in the case because the public might view it as payback for past favors.
Kahn tried to overturn Childers' conviction, but a majority of the court's other judges took the case away from him and voted to uphold the conviction.
In closing arguments Wednesday, F. Wallace Pope, the Clearwater attorney prosecuting Allen, compared the battle among the judges to a "schoolyard fight writ large because it happened in a temple of justice."
Bruce Rogow, representing Allen, suggested that Kahn's actions were aimed at future favors, like getting appointed to the Florida Supreme Court.
Rogow said the court's schoolyard fight would not have gotten outside the courthouse if Kahn had been willing to abandon an opinion accusing his fellow judges of acting illegally when they took the Childers case away from him.
In the face of Kahn's accusations, Rogow said, Allen's opinion merely explained why he voted for a hearing by the full court. Allen and all the other judges who had written opinions were willing to abandon them, but Kahn refused, so all were published in June 2006.
Kahn called Levin the day the opinions were released, and Levin's son, Martin, filed the formal complaint against Allen.
Why did Kahn call his old friend and former law partner that day?
"Because two justices of the Supreme Court are retiring, and Levin is a big player," Rogow said. "Everything Judge Kahn did was so unusual, I have no doubt about what was going on."
Pope denounced the suggestion as a "shameful" continuation of Allen's attempt to smear Kahn.