Politics

/

ArcaMax

Florida judge courts controversy after asking lawyer to join her campaign

Rafael Olmeda, South Florida Sun-Sentinel on

Published in Political News

A Broward judge facing reelection may have been courting controversy in February when she asked a lawyer appearing in front of her why he did not return her phone call from a month earlier.

The phone call, it turns out, was a voicemail asking attorney Michael Jones to join the reelection campaign committee for Broward Circuit Judge Stefanie Moon. Moon made the call from her personal cellphone outside of regular business hours, but her conversation with Jones took place in her courtroom after the conclusion of a hearing.

Jones said this week that he remembered Moon’s question from the bench: “The court called you several weeks ago and you did not return the court’s call. Is there a reason for that?”

Jones said he requested to discuss it with the judge in a sidebar, but she declined.

Jones is a friend and supporter of attorney Johnny Weekes, who has filed to challenge Moon for reelection. Jones said he was prepared to tell Moon why he could not serve on her reelection committee, and that he felt pressured when she asked about it in her courtroom.

Judges are under very strict rules about what they can and cannot do while running for reelection. Campaigning from the bench is strictly prohibited.

“There’s no question that this was the wrong time and place to have this conversation,” Nova Southeastern University Law Professor Bob Jarvis said. “The Judicial Qualifications Commission will probably want the Florida Supreme Court to reprimand her. As long as she shows contrition, that should be the end of it.”

Attorney Bill Gelin, who runs the JAABlog independent courthouse news and gossip website, said the qualifications commission could come up with a more severe penalty if it concludes this is not Moon’s first offense. “I’ve never heard of anyone being accused of electioneering in a courtroom before,” he said. “They are fixated by election offenses. This is like their pet peeve on steroids.”

 

When Moon first ran six years ago, she issued a statement denying that she paid to have her name included on a partisan flyer, another prohibited election activity. “That allegation was serious enough,” Gelin said. “But the courtroom is supposed to be sacrosanct. Politics from the bench might prove to be the ultimate sin.”

Moon did not respond to phone calls seeking comment.

Her opponent, Weekes, said he decided to oppose Moon’s reelection because of what he perceived as her lack of courtesy for her colleagues in the legal profession. In one instance, Moon declined to delay a hearing by a few hours for Weekes so that he could attend an out-of-state sports tournament for his son. When the time for the hearing came, Weekes was there but Moon was not, Weekes said.

“Her judicial assistant told us she was coming back from Pittsburgh on a plane that was not delayed,” Weekes said.

Moon was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1996 and was elected in 2018 to replace retiring Broward Circuit Judge Ilona Holmes. Her current assignment is in the Family Division, where she hears cases involving people seeking restraining orders.

_____


©2024 South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Visit sun-sentinel.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Comments

blog comments powered by Disqus