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Trial begins for judge who criticized colleague

TALLAHASSEE — An unprecedented trial began Monday — of a judge accused of being unfit to hold office because he criticized a fellow judge in a written opinion.

Testifying in the Judicial Qualifications Commission hearing against him, 1st District Court of Appeal Judge Michael Allen said he wrote the opinion because he feared that public perception of the court would suffer from the way it handled the bribery conviction of former Senate President W.D. Childers.

Allen said he didn't think Judge Charles J. Kahn Jr. was corrupt, but he worried that politically savvy people would assume the worst if Kahn led an appellate panel that overturned the bribery conviction of Childers. Kahn once practiced law with Fred Levin, a close Childers associate who helped Kahn get appointed to the court.

Correspondence between the judges on the appellate court was introduced into evidence Monday, and e-mails showed several judges tried to talk Allen out of filing his opinion. But none of the judges apparently thought he was violating judicial ethics when he wrote it.

One by one, the judges of the state's biggest and busiest appellate court are taking the witness stand in a remarkable proceeding that has laid bare their behind-the-scenes animosity.

It's not pretty.

Relations between Judge Allen and Judge James Wolf were apparently among the worst. In e-mails and conversations, the judges referred to each other's opinions as

"bulls---,'' and Wolf referred to Allen as "that son of a bitch in the corner office,'' according to testimony Monday.

Some of Allen's fellow judges say the veteran judge has long displayed animosity toward Judge Kahn, but none could attribute a reason for it.

Allen, called to the witness stand by qualifications commission attorney F. Wallace Pope of Clearwater, said he disapproved of Kahn's behavior and actions but wrote the opinion because he feared for the reputation of a court he loves.

The judges of the 1st District Court of Appeal also found themselves investigating accusations that Kahn was having an affair with a clerk employed by the court. Thirteen of the 15 judges on the court filed a formal complaint against Kahn over the affair and forced him to resign as chief judge, but the qualifications commission dismissed the complaint.

Kahn is expected to be called as a witness by the commission this morning.

A five-member panel of members of the commission are hearing the case and will recommend discipline to the Florida Supreme Court. The high court can drop the charges, reprimand Allen or remove him from office.

"It took courage''

Here is the e-mail exchange between judges Paul Hawkes and Michael Allen on June 21, 2006, a week before Allen's opinion critical of another judge was published.

Hawkes writes Allen:

I think your opinion is very moving. ... I know it took courage. ... I bet that this stand by you will be one of the memories that you take from your service on this court; one of the best memories. Great battles in defense of principles are the very best aspects of public service. I also don't believe that great battles diminish or harm an institution.

Let the battle be joined.


Allen writes back:

Thank you for this note, Paul. You have beautifully crystallized exactly what this is about, though I have my doubts that I will ever recall this "battle'' with any measure of fondness.

Hawkes writes again to Allen:

Not fondness of "the fight,'' but fondness that you fought, and it was difficult, but what you thought was right. Fighting for what is "right,'' especially when it was difficult, is what produces the memories. Most avoid those battles and, as a consequence, erode their own sense of self-respect. Running away causes shame, standing firm produces pride (the good kind).

Trial begins for judge who criticized colleague 06/09/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 10, 2008 6:58pm]
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