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Ethics panelist withdraws from hearing Hillsborough judge complaint

Nancy Jacobs argued that Judicial Qualifications Commission member expressed ‘inflammatory’ right-wing views in published opinions.
 
Circuit Court Judge Nancy L. Jacobs, facing a complaint before the Judicial Qualifications Commission for her conduct during her successful 2022 campaign and while she has been a judge, sought to remove one of the panelists considering her case. He has since removed himself from the six-member panel hearing the complaint.
Circuit Court Judge Nancy L. Jacobs, facing a complaint before the Judicial Qualifications Commission for her conduct during her successful 2022 campaign and while she has been a judge, sought to remove one of the panelists considering her case. He has since removed himself from the six-member panel hearing the complaint. [ handout ]
Published Nov. 4, 2023

Hillsborough County Circuit Judge Nancy Jacobs has moved successfully to disqualify a member of the judicial ethics panel that will hear a complaint against her arising from the bitterly contentious judicial race in which she unseated Judge Jared Smith last year.

After Jacobs filed her motion, Delray Beach public relations executive Jonathan Bronitsky withdrew voluntarily from the six-member panel of the Judicial Qualifications Commission named to rule on the complaint.

Bronitsky is a former speechwriter for Trump administration Attorney General William Barr, appointed to the commission last year by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Jacobs’ motion cited a dozen recent examples of his “inflammatory” right-wing culture war writings in conservative media, saying he couldn’t fairly judge the case.

The opinion pieces included statements such as, “The left … demands absolute conformity in thought and belief” and aims at “fostering ever-deeper government dependence by further forcing the tentacles of state power into our daily lives.”

In a Daily Mail opinion column, he said President Joe Biden gave a speech “slandering” abortion opponents in front of a backdrop that “looked … like the demonic spawn pool of Satan,” calling it “the darkest, most toxic presidential speech of the modern era.”

In a court filing, Bronitsky said he withdrew because “It is not in the best interest of this proceeding for me to comment upon Judge Jacobs’s sworn motion.” He didn’t respond to messages seeking further comment.

The 2022 Jacobs-Smith campaign focused on abortion rights because of a controversial ruling by Smith prohibiting a minor from having an abortion without her parents’ consent, in part because of her grades.

Jacobs criticized Smith, a member of a conservative evangelical church, over the ruling.

The race featured heavy spending and negative campaigning by outside groups. Ethics rules forbid judicial candidates from negative campaigning, partisanship and taking political stances.

Jacobs has acknowledged filing an ethics complaint against Smith but wouldn’t say what it was about.

The Commission has taken no public action on that complaint, but in September, in response to a complaint against Jacobs, it found probable cause to charge her with violating the campaign guidelines.

The complaint charges her, among other things, with making public comments and allowing postings by supporters on her campaign social media that criticized Smith’s religious and political stances and called him anti-semitic and racist; with advertising an endorsement by Planned Parenthood; and what it called unprofessional incidents since her election.

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After Smith lost the race, DeSantis elevated him to an appeals court position.