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Broward County Judge Claudia Robinson in Trouble
December 01, 2017-Broward County Judge Claudia Robinson in Trouble-Yesterday the Investigative Panel of the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission (“JQC”), filed formal ethics charges against Broward County judge Claudia Robinson.
“The Investigative Panel of the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission (“JQC” or “the Commission”), at its meeting on November 3, 2017, by a vote of the majority of its members, pursuant to Rule 6(t) of the Rules of the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission, and Article V, Section 12 (b) of the Constitution of the State of Florida, finds that probable cause exists for formal proceedings to be instituted against you…” Excerpt from Notice of Formal Charges
On November 3, 2017, the Investigative Panel of the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission conducted a hearing, reviewed a written response, and took sworn testimony from Judge Robinson.
Judge Claudia Robinson was represented by attorney John P. Seiler of Broward County.
At the conclusion of this hearing, pursuant to FJQC Rule 6(f), the Investigative Panel of the Commission found probable cause by a majority vote of its members, and authorized the filing of Formal Charges against Judge Robinson for creating the appearance of impropriety, and appearing to favor a former campaign adviser, Michael G. Ahearn, with mediation work.
Broward County Judge Claudia Robinson in Trouble
The Investigative Panel found that Judge Robinson largely self-funded her 2014 campaign for judicial office, and she did not employ a paid campaign manager or consultant.
However, attorney Michael Ahearn, a well-known political consultant, played a significant role in the campaign as an unpaid advisor for Judge Robinson. The November 2014 election was a close contest in which Judge Robinson defeated the incumbent judge in a runoff, receiving approximately 50.1% of the vote.
Mr. Ahearn’s role within the campaign, although unpaid, was significant, as acknowledged by Judge Robinson and Mr. Ahearn. Mr. Ahearn actually approached Judge Robinson and recommended to her that she should run for the judicial seat after conducting a statistical analysis of the race. Once the campaign was underway, Mr. Ahearn continued to assist Judge Robinson with strategy, messaging, and media relations on an as-needed basis.
Upon taking the Broward County bench in 2015, Judge Robinson began appointing Mr. Ahearn to serve as a private mediator in county civil and small claims cases.
Court records obtained by the Investigative Panel revealed that between April 2015 and March 2017, Judge Robinson ordered a total of approximately 296 cases into private mediation.
Mr. Ahearn was assigned as the default mediator in 245 of those cases. That’s approximately 80% of the total cases.
The Commission is guided by Canon 3C(4), which requires that appointments be made impartially and on the basis of merit rather than favoritism.
Judge Robinson insists that the appointments were based upon the quality of Mr. Ahearn’s work, rather than any prearranged agreement.
However, she does concede that the disproportionate number of appointments to Mr. Ahearn does create the appearance of favoritism and impropriety in violation of the Canons.
Judge Robinson points out that merely because a person is appointed as the default mediator, does not necessarily mean that person conducted the mediation.
In Broward County, an order sending a case to mediation contains the name of a default mediator, and parties are given ten days to file a stipulation with the Court agreeing to use a different mediator.
If a stipulation is not filed within ten days, the default mediator is automatically assigned to conduct the mediation.
To be sure, in some of those cases where Mr. Ahearn was listed as the default mediator, the parties also agreed and stipulated to use the services of Mr. Ahearn. The Commission is mindful, however, that, “Consent by the parties to an appointment or an award of compensation does not relieve the judge of the obligation prescribed by 3C(4).” Commentary to Canon 3C(4).
Judge Robinson insists her inappropriate conduct was the result of a lapse in judgement and lack of attention to the mediation appointment process, and that there was no prearranged agreement for repayment to Mr. Ahearn through the mediation appointment process. Having thoroughly reviewed the available evidence, the Commission is unable to demonstrate otherwise.
Since the matter was brought to her attention, Judge Robinson has expanded the list of qualified mediators that she uses, and more carefully monitors how many cases are being assigned to each mediator. In addition, Judge Robinson has apologized, expressed remorse, and cooperated with the JQC investigation at all stages, including admitting to violating the canons.
The Commission has charged, and Judge Robinson has acknowledged and admitted, that her conduct in appointing her former campaign advisor, Mr. Ahearn, to a disproportionate number of mediations failed to uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary in violation of Canon 1, created the appearance of impropriety in violation of Canon 2, and fostered the appearance of favoritism toward Mr. Ahearn in violation of Canon 3C(4).
The Judicial Qualifications Commission hereby finds and recommends that the interests of justice, the public welfare, and sound judicial administration are best served by a public reprimand of Judge Robinson, the imposition of a 30-day suspension without pay, and the payment of the Commission’s investigative costs.
Today, The Florida Supreme Court took jurisdiction over the case, and will decide in the near future if they will go along with the JQC’s recommendations.
If the past few years are any indication of what the Supreme Court will do with the JQC recommendations, we can expect they will impose some sort of stricter punishment, or just chuck the JQC’s recommendations all together, as they should in our opinion.
Let’s Look at This
County Judge Claudia Robinson Admits to Official Misconduct
Michael Ahearn worked for free to “help” judge Robinson get elected. Do you believe for free? Who works for free?
The Judge acknowledged that he had “a significant role” in her 2014 campaign, and that he helped her get elected in a very close election. For Free!
After being elected, records show that between April 2015 and March of 2017, the judge ordered approximately 296 cases into private mediation.
In 245 of those cases, she listed Mr. Ahearn as the default mediator who would be assigned if the parties did not stipulate to a different mediator within ten days.
Mr. Ahearn actually conducted mediations in approximately 174 of those cases, charging between $250 to $300 per hour, with at least a one hour minimum.
Even with the more conservative rate of $250.00, 174 cases at that rate totals $43,500.
That’s a “very” conservative estimate by simply taking $250.00 X 174. The real amount is probably a lot higher.
Most mediations will require more than one hour. We found the following posted on a popular courthouse blog, that claims to be what the people ordered into mediation actually received from Ahearn’s mediation firm:
Enclosed please find the Notice for Arbitration indicating the date and time of the arbitration for the above referenced case. Please be advised that the flat fee for the arbitration is $750.00. Each party will be responsible for bringing a check in the amount of $375.00 made payable to: AHEARN DISPUTE RESOLUTION, on the day of the hearing.
In the event the arbitration process exceeds three hours, an additional fee of $100.00/hour will be charged for any subsequent time expended.
Additionally, please be advised that if the Arbitration is cancelled within one day or less notice of the scheduled arbitration time, the full fee of $750.00 ($375.00 per side) shall be accessed. If the Arbitration is cancelled within seven (7) business days’ notice of the scheduled Arbitration time, a cancellation fee of $300.00 (three-hundred dollars) i.e. $150.00 (one hundred fifty dollars per side) will be assessed.
Going with that figure of a minimum $750.00, the amount the Ahearn firm took in is probably more like $130,500. $750.00 X 174.
Does anyone still think he did it for free?
Both the judge and Mr. Ahearn have a very good reason to want to settle and bury this matter. If it can be shown the two of them had any arrangement to send cases to the Ahearn’s mediation firm, under Florida law, (Statute 104.071), that would be a third degree felony.
It seems the Florida JQC is that gullible. Shame on the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission for their attempt to let the judge off so easy when anyone with a functioning brain can see what went on here.
Under FJQC Rule 60), the Investigative Panel “may reach agreement with a judge on discipline or disability,” and the Supreme Court has the discretion to accept or reject the terms of the Stipulation.
We can only hope The Florida Supreme Court isn’t as outrageously gullible as the JQC in this matter. Over the past few years the Supreme Court has tended to throw out the recommendations of the JQC and imposed even harsher penalties for judicial misconduct. Especially when it comes to Broward judges.
The graphic below might give some insight into why.
Our guess is they will impose harsher penalties on the judge.
At the very least this is deserving of a public reprimand, going by the courts previous rulings concerning Broward judges who tarnish the integrity of the court.
A Word About Michael Ahearn
Attorney Michael G. Ahearn is a very well know political consultant to attorneys in Broward interested in running for a judicial seat, and incumbent judges seeking re-election.
His tactics have been rumored to included some very low and sleazy methods of insuring his clients victory.
He’s been very successful at it too. Over the past ten years or so, he’ gotten a lot of judges in Broward elected.
If this current JQC case is any indication of his methods of operation, than this could very well be just the tip of the iceberg.
It seems this JQC complaint came from someone that knows a lot of whats going on and has promised that more Broward judges will be implicated in the near future, so stay tuned Broward we might be seeing the beginning of a huge scandal here.
To view the case files directly from The Florida Supreme Court’s JQC website: