TALLAHASSEE — No Florida judge ever has been disciplined for something he wrote in a court opinion, but a divided Judicial Qualifications Commission panel Friday recommended a public reprimand for 1st District Court of Appeal Judge Michael E. Allen.
The panel, however, praised Allen as a "an excellent, hard-working judge" — and took the unusual step of suggesting that JQC investigators review the actions of the judge Allen criticized.
In the end, though, the panel said that Allen "crossed the line" when he wrote an opinion critical of fellow Judge Charles J. Kahn Jr. for participating in the appeal of the criminal case against former Senate President W.D. Childers.
Kahn headed a three-judge panel that attempted to overturn Childers' bribery conviction. But in June 2006, the entire Tallahassee appellate court heard the case and voted 10-4 to uphold the conviction.
Allen wrote an opinion critical of Kahn for participating in the case because he once was friends with Childers and law partners with Fred Levin, a Pensacola trial lawyer and longtime friend of Childers'.
Allen said he was concerned that Kahn's participation could lead the public to question the impartiality of the court. The JQC charged Allen with misconduct after Levin's son, Martin, filed a formal complaint.
"He caused the public to question the court's integrity and impartiality," the JQC ruled Friday, and for that he should get a public reprimand. The Florida Supreme Court can accept or reject the JQC's recommendation.
The JQC panel noted that Allen has an otherwise unblemished reputation and has "rendered extraordinary service to the state of Florida." Because he solicited opinions from other judges before writing critically of Kahn, he should not receive a more severe sanction.
"The hearing panel has confidence that Judge Allen has learned from this experience, and that nothing like it will ever occur again," the opinion said.
The JQC dismissed additional charges accusing Allen of lacking patience, dignity and courteousness and being faithless to the law and of lying to JQC investigators when he denied harboring personal animosity toward Kahn.
The JQC noted that testimony about Kahn's conduct came out during the case and said the transcript of the hearing is available to JQC investigators "for such action as it deems appropriate."
Testimony at the Allen trial indicated Kahn was forced to resign as chief judge because he was having an affair with a court clerk and several witnesses suggested Kahn had a volatile temper and appeared unstable.
In 2006, at the same time JQC investigators decided to take action against Allen, they dismissed a complaint filed against Kahn by 13 of his fellow judges who questioned Kahn's affair with the clerk and a second complaint filed by the state court administrator's office over alleged advances Kahn made to another court system employee.
Kahn could not be reached for comment Friday.
Bruce Rogow, the Fort Lauderdale lawyer who represents Allen, said he was disappointed that the panel recommended a reprimand. But he was pleased with the JQC's praise for Allen and surprised it suggested Kahn be investigated. Rogow will ask the Supreme Court to reject the JQC's call for a reprimand.
Lucy Morgan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.