JUSTICE BUILDING BLOG
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Thursday, December 13, 2018
FLORIDA SUPREME COURT DISCIPLINES TWO MIAMI-DADE JUDGES .......
THE CAPTAIN REPORTS:
JUDGE MARIA D. ORTIZ SUSPENDED FOR 90 DAYS .......
Judge Ortiz, who was previously a Judge of Compensation Claims from 1997 - 2003, and who was appointed to the County Court bench by Governor Jeb Bush in 2004, and who ran unopposed for re-election in 2006, 2012, and most recently in 2018, has agreed to a 90 day suspension.
On May 4, 2018, the JQC filed formal charges against the Judge. She was represented by our colleague, attorney David Rothman, throughout these proceedings. Judge Oritz was charged with violations related to free hotel stays that her husband received while he was the Director of the Building Department for the City of Miami Beach. Her husband, Mariano Fernandez, was arrested in February on allegations he accepted gifts from the RIU hotel chain in exchange for favors to help speed up renovations at the company's South Beach resort. Fernandez, who is currently represented by attorney Jeffrey Weiner, faces two charges of Unlawful Compensation, and is set to go to trial before Judge Richard Hersch on March 25, 2019. Attorney Barry Wax represents both defendant, Luis Riu, one of the owners of the hotel chain, and defendant, RIU Florida Inc. Attorney Jacqueline Arango represents another defendant in the case.
The allegations laid out in the JQC complaint state that:
1. "Between August 7, 2015, and August 9, 2015, you and your husband stayed free-of-charge in an expensive "Ocean Front" double room at the Riu Miami Beach Hotel. During this stay, the Hotel provided you and your husband with a free food basket and a bottle of wine."
2. "Between September 3, 2015, and September 7, 2015, you and your husband stayed free-of-charge, at the RIU Palace Bavaro All-Inclusive Resort, in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. During this week-long vacation, you and your family stayed, for free, in a jacuzzi suite.
The Hotel also arranged for a special excursion, a trip to the VIP area of the famous Coco-Bongo Show and Disco. This excursion was provided free-of-charge."
3. "Between September 1, 2016, and September 5, 2016, you and your husband stayed free-of-charge, at the RIU Palace All-Inclusive Resort in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. During this week-long vacation, you and your family stayed, for free, in a Ocean Jacuzzi Suite."
The JQC charges against Judge Oritz stated:
"You improperly received and then failed to disclose the receipt of any of the free hotel accommodations and benefits provided to your husband by the RIU Hotel Group."
Judge Ortiz accepted full responsibility for the violation of Judicial Canons and the JQC and Judge Oritz agreed to submit to the Florida Supreme Court a Stipulated settlement. The Stipulation stated:
"The Investigative Panel of the Commission submits to the Court, that a public reprimand and a fine of $5,000 are sufficient to address Judge Ortiz’s conduct, and likewise serves as a reminder to all judges about the importance of monitoring their personal finances, and accurate reporting on their financial disclosures."
On June 8, 2018, the Florida Supreme Court rejected the deal, stating:
"Upon consideration of the Judicial Qualifications Commission’s Findings and Recommendation of Discipline and the parties’ Stipulation, the Court rejects the Stipulation and disapproves the proposed sanctions. We remand for further proceedings to include a full hearing before the Judicial Qualifications Commission in order to fully develop the facts regarding any misconduct that occurred, so that the Court, in determining the appropriate discipline, will be apprised of all the facts and circumstances bearing on the alleged violations."
On October 29, 2018, after communications took place between the JQC and Judge Ortiz, a new Stipulation was reached:
"Based on the facts of this case, the Commission and Judge Ortiz now agree that an increased sanction is appropriate and, as such, have agreed that Judge Ortiz should receive a 30-day suspension without pay, pay a $5,000 fine, receive a public reprimand, and pay the reimbursable costs of the JQC's inquiry, in the amount of $377.45."
On December 7, 2018, by a 5-2 vote, with Justices Canady & Lawson dissenting, the Supreme Court again rejected the stipulated settlement.
"Upon consideration of the response to the Court’s June 8, 2018, order and the Revised Stipulation, the Court rejects the Revised Stipulation and disapproves the proposed sanctions. This case is remanded for further proceedings. The Court would accept a stipulation with the sanctions of a ninety-day suspension without pay, a $5000 fine, a public reprimand, and payment of the Judicial Qualifications Commission’s reimbursable costs. In the event the parties are unable to enter into a second revised stipulation, a final plenary hearing shall be conducted before the Commission."
On December 11, 2018, a Second Revised Stipulation was submitted to the Court whereby Judge Ortiz and the JQC agreed to the penalties outlines in the December 7th order:
"The Commission and Judge Oritz agree that Judge Oritz should receive a ninety-day suspension without pay, pay a $5,000 fine, receive a public reprimand, and pay the reimbursable costs of the JQC’s inquiry, in the amount of $377.45."
JUDGE DEBORAH WHITE-LABORA AGREES TO PUBLIC REPRIMAND.
On June 15, 2018, the JQC filed formal charges against Judge White-Labora. The charges stated:
"In January of 2018, you wrote a character reference letter on behalf of a criminal defendant awaiting sentencing in federal court. USA v. Sam Konell 1:17-cr-20388 (SDFL). This letter was written on your judicial letterhead, and signed "Deborah White-Labora, County Court Judge."
The JQC went on to state that: "Such character reference letters are prohibited by the Canons and have resulted in published disciplinary cases".
The JQC and Judge White-Labora (she represented herself) reached an agreed stipulated settlement which stated that:
"The Commission therefore finds and recommends that in the interests of justice, the public welfare and sound juridical administration will be well served by a public reprimand of Judge White-Labora."
On November 15, 2018, the Florida Supreme Court agreed to accept the stipulation, stating:
"In this case, we review the findings, conclusions, and recommendation of the Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) concerning Judge Deborah WhiteLabora, a judge of the Miami-Dade County Court, and the stipulation entered into between Judge White-Labora and the JQC. We have jurisdiction. See art. V, § 12, Fla. Const. As explained below, we approve the parties’ stipulation to the allegation that Judge White-Labora improperly provided a character reference letter, on her official court stationery, on behalf of a criminal defendant awaiting sentencing in federal court, as well as the JQC’s finding that this misconduct violated two canons of the Code of Judicial Conduct. We also approve the stipulated discipline of a public reprimand."
The Public Reprimand is scheduled to take place on February 6, 2019.
CAPTAIN OUT .......