TALLAHASSEE -- His tie red, white and blue and his back military straight, Hillsborough Circuit Judge Gregory Holder stood before the Florida Supreme Court on Wednesday and accepted a reprimand for his advocacy on behalf of a veteran in his court.
In a case that raised questions about the role of a judge in a court that emphasizes treatment over punishment, Holder was accused of crossing the line on behalf of Clay Allred, then a troubled former U.S. Army Green Beret who behaved bizarrely and fired a gun in the air at a Tampa convenience store in 2014.
After Allred avoided prison as part of Veterans Treatment Court - a special court for people with mental health or substance abuse issues related to their military service - the judge lobbied hard to get him accepted back at the University of South Florida and advocated against a formal finding of guilt on his record.
And that crossed the line, according to the Judicial Qualifications Commission.
"Whatever feelings you harbor for Mr. Allred, you went far beyond" the canons that govern judicial conduct, Chief Justice Jorge LaBarga told the judge in a somber hearing that lasted less than ten minutes.
Holder, 62, did not speak at the disciplinary hearing, as is custom. In the front row behind him sat more than a dozen people there to support him, many of them retired or active military men who are volunteer mentors to veterans in his court.
And a few rows back was a bespectacled man who had just driven in from Jacksonville and had to get back to class - Allred, the veteran for whom Holder got into hot water.
"I couldn't see myself not coming to this," said Allred, who is finishing up an IT degree and said he got all A's last semester.
Holder, who has been on the bench for more than two decades, agreed to Wednesday's disciplinary proceeding. Afterward, he said he hoped the rules governing judges would be updated to reflect the mission of a court in which judicial interaction is considered "essential."
"I'm glad it's over so I can get back to work serving the veterans," he said.
Sue Carlton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.