Circuit Judge Gregory Holder beat a plagiarism charge but remains on the hook for his attorney's fees, the Florida Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
The state Constitution does not authorize the high court to award attorney's fees arising from Judicial Qualifications Commission proceedings, the majority opinion said.
Holder's lead attorney questioned the decision.
"This puts a wrongfully accused judge in the position of making a Hobson's choice between loss of reputation and removal from the bench on one hand," attorney David B. Weinstein said in a prepared statement, "and mounting an effective defense - which could lead to financial ruin - on the other."
Six months ago, attorneys for the JQC and Holder argued before the court after the judge made an unprecedented request for the ethics body to foot his $1.8-million legal bill. Holder said he was entitled to recoup fees because the misconduct charges were connected to the performance of his official duties.
The judge, who sits on the civil bench, spent two years fighting allegations that he plagiarized portions of a 1998 research paper he wrote for a course at MacDill Air Force Base. A JQC hearing panel dismissed the charges after a trial last year and recommended that Holder be awarded costs.
The Constitution expressly allows the court to grant costs in JQC proceedings. But it does not specifically address attorney's fees, the five justices in the majority said.
Chief Justice R. Fred Lewis agreed with the majority ruling but not the analysis; Justice Charles T. Wells recused himself.
Brooke Kennerly, executive director for the JQC, said commission members agree that neither side could seek reimbursement for attorney's fees.
Holder declined comment. His attorney said the judge's legal team is evaluating its options.
Colleen Jenkins can be reached at (813) 226-3337 or firstname.lastname@example.org.