Judge Scheduled Fake Hearings to Take Time Off, Notice Alleges
Broward Circuit Judge John Contini, a Florida judge who resigned without notice on July 6, now faces allegations that he scheduled fake cases and hearings, so he could take time off from work. A notice recently filed stated there is probable cause to bring judicial ethics charges against Contini.
“On numerous occasions, you have instructed your judicial assistant to create dockets of fictitious cases or hearings on particular days of the week on which you planned to be absent from the courthouse,” the notice read. “Your fabrication of these dockets was designed to create the impression that you were present in the courthouse, when in fact, you were not.”
Investigators discovered that hearings were frequently scheduled for cases which had already settled, or for already heard case or those that had been postponed. The “contrived dockets” wasted valuable resources. Court personnel “needed to be on standby for hearings that were not real and would never happen,” according to the notice, which further indicated the judge had been absent from work more than thirty days since the beginning of 2018. It also accuses Contini of the following:
- Sealing a case for a friend and a business associate even though the matter wasn’t assigned to his family law division. The friend was working on a “reputation rehabilitation” project for Contini.
- Requiring his judicial assistant to perform personal tasks for Contini, such as paying his bills and making personal travel arrangements.
- Addressing court staff and litigants “in an arrogant, demeaning and dismissive tone.”
- Posting confidential information about an adoption case on social media.
The allegations also state Contini was aware that some of the cases had been settled but that he failed to cancel hearings that had already been set, making it appear that he had a busy calendar, so he could more easily sneak away. He would ask his judicial assistant to send him court documents to review and sign while he was out of the courthouse. Judicial assistants are not supposed to act as personal secretaries for any judges, according to the notice.
“This is highly unusual, to go after a judge who has already resigned,” said attorney Bill Gelin. “Normally the JQC closes up shop after a resignation and the Florida Bar can decide what’s the next appropriate step, if any.” Indiana University Maurer School of Law professor Charles Geyh said ethics regulators may want to make clear that this type of behavior is unacceptable, though, even if a judge has already retired.
Contini had received flack in the past for advising public defenders via email how to seek leniency in certain cases and harshly targeting a prosecutor who objected to the ex parte communication. Contini had said the prosecutor told “a lie from the pit of hell” regarding the matter.
“Former Judge Contini’s conduct and behavior violated the canons governing judicial conduct,” Broward Chief Administrative Judge Jack Tuter said. “That conduct and his resignation is not a reflection of the many fine judges working in the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit.”
The commission’s assistant general counsel, Alexander Williams, confirmed the notice is publicly available for review.