The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a judicial referee's decision that New Port Richey lawyer John Renke II violated election laws by giving an illegal $98,500 loan to his son's 2002 judicial campaign.
Renke, a former lawmaker and Pasco GOP committeeman, was suspended from practicing law for 60 days, will face a public reprimand and must pay about $8,000 in costs to the Florida Bar, which made the complaint against him. Renke will begin serving his suspension within the next 30 days.
The scandal of seven years already cost Renke's son his judgeship. John Renke III was thrown off the Pinellas-Pasco circuit bench in 2006 for accepting the loan, as well as for misrepresenting his qualifications. In campaign literature, Renke III used phrases like "a judge with our values," leading voters to think he was an incumbent.
The Bar complaint against Renke II accused him of making "misrepresentations" to the Judicial Qualifications Commission, which investigated his son's campaign for judge.
In 2005, the father testified that the money wasn't a campaign loan. He said it was his son's share of a large settlement the firm had won.
But the father paid the son in 2002, the Florida Supreme Court noted, while the settlement wasn't approved until 2003. Even the senior Renke's wife told the JQC the money was to "cover campaign expenses," according to the Bar's October 2007 complaint.
Last year Renke II, 63, vowed to fight the referee's decision.
"It's the craziest thing I've ever seen," he told the Times in August, accusing the Bar of wrongly setting rules for private employment payments.
But the court's order issued Thursday said the decision was uncontested. Renke did not return a call for comment.
Last November, Renke also lost the county's Republican committeeman post, which he'd held since 1994. Bill Bunting, the longtime party chairman, challenged him for the seat and won.
The Bar punished the younger Renke with a 30-day suspension last year, too.
The Pasco GOP was fined $3,000 in 2004 for failing to report contributions and a mailing supporting Renke III in the nonpartisan judicial race.
Molly Moorhead can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6245.