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State Supreme Court to discipline judge for written opinion

TALLAHASSEE — For the first time, the Florida Supreme Court will discipline a judge for something he wrote in a court opinion.

The high court on Thursday ordered a public reprimand for Judge Michael E. Allen of the 1st District Court of Appeal, because he questioned the ethics of a fellow judge in a written opinion.

Five members of the state's high court, in an unsigned opinion, ordered Allen to appear before them for a reprimand. The court's two newest justices did not participate in the case.

The court accepted a recommendation of the Judicial Qualifications Commission that said Allen crossed the line when he criticized Judge Charles J. Kahn Jr. for participating in a criminal case involving former Senate President W.D. Childers of Pensacola.

Kahn once practiced law with Pensacola lawyer Fred Levin, a longtime friend of Childers who helped the former senator and then-Gov. Lawton Chiles craft the law that allowed the state to sue tobacco companies.

In a 2006 opinion, Allen said Kahn's attempt to overturn Childers' bribery conviction might be misconstrued by Floridians familiar with newspaper stories describing the relationship between Kahn, Levin and Chiles.

The high court was especially critical of Allen for using newspaper accounts, though the court then went on to take note of newspaper stories written about Allen's opinion, saying they did not promote public confidence in the judiciary.

The court also had a warning for the JQC: "we caution that our opinion today should not be viewed as a license for the JQC to judge and evaluate judicial opinions.''

Judges sometimes use intemperate or colorful language, the court said, but it said Allen crossed the line by falsely accusing Judge Kahn of corruption and using unverified statements from materials outside of the record of the case.

The Supreme Court opinion made no mention of the uproar surrounding Kahn's alleged affair with a court clerk — a situation that prompted 13 of his fellow judges to force Kahn out of the chief judge's job and file a JQC complaint against him.

The commission dismissed that complaint, but the hearing panel that recommended a reprimand for Allen urged JQC investigators to take another look at Kahn's behavior.

Bruce Rogow, the Fort Lauderdale lawyer who represents Allen, said the judge is disappointed. "He wrote the opinion to explain his reasons for voting … and is sorry that it was misunderstood by the court,'' Rogow said. He complimented the court for at least recognizing the importance of judicial independence and said Judge Allen is ready to move on.

In suggesting a public reprimand, the JQC said Allen has led a long unblemished and distinguished career. Allen was a public defender in North Florida when he was appointed to the appellate court in 1990 by then-Gov. Bob Martinez.

No date was set for Allen to appear before the court.

Lucy Morgan can be reached at lmorgan@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

State Supreme Court to discipline judge for written opinion 12/18/08 [Last modified: Monday, December 22, 2008 12:32pm]
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