TAMPA — Hillsborough Circuit Judge Tracy Sheehan will likely keep her job after a weekend arrest for driving under the influence.
Chief Judge Manuel Menendez Jr. does not plan to discipline Sheehan, and in similar cases reviewed by the Tampa Bay Times, Florida judges accused of a first-time DUI kept their jobs.
The Judicial Qualifications Commission, an independent state agency, is tasked with investigating judges' behavior. They specifically watch out for violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct, which states that a judge should enforce and observe high standards of conduct.
The commission can initiate its own investigation or respond to a public complaint. After a hearing, the Florida Supreme Court disciplines the judge. Punishment can range from no action to the judge's removal.
A St. Lucie judge accused of DUI remains on the bench after a public reprimand last year.
Sheehan is accused of driving drunk in Ybor City on Friday. She told the Times it was a horrible decision and regrets that it reflect poorly on the judiciary. She called Menendez on Saturday to inform him.
"She was very apologetic and just beside herself," Menendez said Monday.
He thought it spoke volumes that Sheehan owned up to her mistake. He said he hasn't heard from anyone asking that Sheehan be removed or reassigned. She currently hears civil, probate and family law cases in Plant City.
Locally, a few judges have been charged with DUIs since the '90s. In 1994, Tampa federal judge Steven D. Merryday pleaded guilty to drunken driving charges and accepted one year's probation. He kept his job.
In 1996, Pinellas-Pasco Judge Charles Weaver Cope was charged with DUI. He eventually saw the charges dismissed but not before public outcry from Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which asked that he be reassigned.
In 1994, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Alexander Paskay was arrested on DUI. He was apologetic and his circuit's chief said he would not investigate Paskay unless it became clear the judge had an ongoing problem.
A single arrest, the chief judge said, was not sufficient to remove him from the bench.
Times news researcer John Martin contributed to this report.