Judge Slom was gracious enough to respond to his critics. Below is his entire email, unedited, for all to review. Judge Slom has been criticized in our humble blog these last few days, and he is fully entitled to have his say, uninterrupted. We will post out thoughts in a later post.
ALL RISE: Judge Slom wrote:
I will attempt to respond to your concerns in a concise manner.
As an Administrative Judge, I am charged with the responsibility of administering a division. In my capacity, this often means that I am called upon to address the concerns of the judges in the Criminal Division of County Court, the members of the Bar that practice there, and the unrepresented defendants who seek information/assistance. It is my responsibility to ensure that our County Court system operates fairly and competently in the administration of justice.
As an Administrative Judge, it is my responsibility to respond to the concerns of the judges within our division.
This past year, a number of DUI division judges have expressed a concern over the number of DUI arrestees who have been released on bond pursuant to a standard bond schedule when that arrestee had multiple DUI prior convictions and even have had an open DUI pending when they picked up their new offense. For example, there was one instance where a judge related that a defendant had one or two DUI priors, was out on pretrial release on a pending DUI and while on release picked up a new DUI. The judge inquired how is it possible that a defendant who has two priors, a third case pending and picks up a new DUI can be out on a $1500 bond. It was ultimately determined that this defendant posted the standard bond pursuant to the standard bond schedule and was therefore released without any consideration as to his prior record or pending charges because the bond was posted prior to the first appearance calendar. The judges were concerned that on several recent occasions defendants had been released on minimal standard bonds on their new DUI cases despite the fact that they had prior convictions for DUI. This is how the issue itself arose.
Regardless of one’s position as to whether it is desirable to have a standard bond schedule that permits the posting of a bond without judicial oversight, it does appear that this procedure of allowing defendants to post a standard bond without any judicial oversight as to priors or pending cases is somewhat inconsistent with Florida Statute 903.046(2). The statute states that when setting bail, the court shall consider “a defendant’s past and present conduct, including any record of convictions”…
Now that I have provided you with the above backdrop, I relate how this legislative discussion arose. While addressing the previous related issue with the judges, I received a phone call from a Legislator inquiring as to whether there were any issues pending in the court system that might be worthy of legislative consideration. (Despite what some may think, it is neither unusual nor improper for legislators to contact the judiciary in order to seek input from the judiciary as to whether the legislative branch should contemplate statutory action to address a matter that relates to the administration of our justice system.) I informed this legislator that the above scenario was a concern that had arisen in the division. While discussing this situation, I indicated that there is an existing statute that provides that someone arrested for domestic violence must appear before a judge before bail is determined. (Florida Statute 741.2901). We then discussed a potential legislative option was the consideration of a similar statute directed at defendants arrested for DUI.
That was the extent of our conversation. Despite the contentions of one of your bloggers, I did not go Tallahassee to lobby on this matter nor did I go to the State Attorney’s Office to discuss this legislative consideration. I did not even know that this option was being acted upon in Tallahassee until I received a phone call from a defense attorney who informed me of such. That was the extent of my involvement.
The implication in the Blog that there was some collusion with the bond companies is an interesting conspiracy theory but false. I never discussed this legislative consideration with them. My dealings with the bonding companies are through their attorneys who file motions regarding estreatures on their behalf. I only grant those motions if the State Attorney’s Office stipulates to their motion. If there is no stipulation, the division judge must address the motion in court on the record.
As to the contention that my conduct previously described amounts to judicial activism, I respectfully disagree. Judicial activism occurs when judges legislate from the bench – in their rulings. It is not judicial activism to provide input to our lawmakers for their consideration particularly when it concerns the administration of our court system.
That specific type of conduct is authorized under Canon 4.
A JUDGE MAY ENGAGE
IN EXTRA-JUDICIAL ACTIVITIES TO IMPROVE THE LAW,
THE LEGAL SYSTEM, AND THE ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE
A judge, subject to the proper performance of judicial duties, may engage in the following law-related activities, if in doing so the judge does not cast reasonable doubt on the capacity to decide impartially any issue that may come before the judge:
A judge may appear at a public hearing before, or otherwise consult with, an executive or legislative body or official on matters concerning the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice to the extent that it would generally be perceived that a judge's judicial experience provides special expertise in the area.
Naturally, one is free to interpret any set of facts as they wish. To state however, that a judge has lost their impartiality because they discussed a legislative option that is consistent with the mandate that bail be set based in part on prior convictions and pending cases – I believe that such a conclusion is unfair and unjustified.
Recently, I communicated to a legislator that I questioned the prudence of Florida Statute 322.055 which mandates a two-year driver license suspension for one convicted of simple possession of marijuana – even though a vehicle was not involved in the crime. Does the fact that I communicated that concern mean that I cannot preside impartially over a marijuana trial? Should the State question my neutrality because of that input?
Our judiciary occupies a unique position to offer its insights as to the administration of justice. In fact, many would content that the judiciary is under an obligation to do so.
I would encourage anyone who has any question or concern about our County Court Division to drop by my chambers. Those who know me personally can attest that I would appreciate your input and welcome your suggestions.
Judge Sam Slom
Criminal Division, County Court
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