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    I never lied, says defiant judge

    But a judicial ethics panel recommends that the state Supreme Court reprimand and suspend Judge Cynthia Holloway for 30 days.

    By DAVID KARP, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published January 19, 2002


    TAMPA -- From the beginning nearly two years ago, Hillsborough Circuit Judge Cynthia Holloway insisted on one point: She did not lie.

    While admitting other mistakes, she said she truthfully answered questions under oath in a child custody case.

    On Friday, even as a state judicial ethics panel said Holloway gave "misleading" answers under oath, Holloway refused to yield.

    Standing in front of television cameras with her husband at her side, Holloway denounced the panel's conclusions and promised to fight the findings before the Florida Supreme Court.

    "Our system should be just and fair all of the time, and those who are critical of the system or point out its flaws are entitled to the same fair and equitable proceedings as everyone else," said Holloway, who has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting the charges.

    The panel that heard Holloway's case recommended Friday that the Supreme Court publicly reprimand her for misconduct, suspend her without pay from the bench for 30 days and force her to pay the costs of the trial.

    It found Holloway guilty of interfering in a child custody case, attempting to influence a police detective in the case, and then giving false or misleading answers in a sworn deposition. The panel also said Holloway acted improperly by asking another judge to expedite her brother's uncontested divorce.

    None of the charges are criminal, but are considered judicial ethics violations. The Supreme Court could accept the JQC's report, reject it or recommend a harsher punishment, such as removal from office.

    The panel said Holloway did not "intentionally lie" during a deposition in the child custody case, but instead gave misleading answers in violation of judicial ethics.

    Holloway's explanation for the misleading answer was "simply unacceptable" for a sitting judge, the panel found. Later, when Holloway changed statements in her deposition by filing a correction sheet, the judge still did not fully admit what she had done, the panel said.

    Instead, Holloway "equivocated as to the meaning of her answers," the panel found. Her answers were "at best misleading," it said.

    The investigation began when Mark Johnson, the father in the child custody case, complained that Holloway was improperly helping the mother. Acting as his own lawyer, Johnson had questioned Holloway under oath about her role, and thought she was lying. On Friday, though, he was satisfied with the JQC's finding that Holloway misled him.

    "They didn't buy her explanation, but they didn't want to use the word "lying,' " Johnson said. "It seems like lawyer talk to me."

    Whether Holloway lied or misled, either shouldn't be acceptable, Johnson said.

    "What kind of standard should a circuit judge be held up to?" he said.

    But Holloway's lawyer, Scott Tozian, said the distinction means a lot. Lying is deliberate, while a misleading answer may be unintentional, he said.

    At her press conference, Holloway said she felt "vindicated" by the panel's findings that she did not lie.

    Holloway, who has seen many criminal defendants break down and cry in court in her 12 years on the bench, became choked up as she read a statement.

    "I always believed that this investigation would show the truth about Cynthia Holloway," she said. "That I am a devoted wife, mother, friend, lawyer and judge. That I am a respected and competent judge. That I am passionate in everything that I do."

    A judge known for firm demeanor on the bench, Holloway, 46, has presided over some of Tampa's best-known murder trials.

    She first came under scrutiny in March 2000 when the sister of Holloway's best friend sought her help in a bitter custody lawsuit over a 4-year-old girl. Holloway, who cared for the girl, stormed into the office of Circuit Judge Ralph Stoddard, who was hearing the custody case, and pointed her finger at him and scolded him. Holloway also called a police detective investigating abuse allegations in the case.

    Later, when the father in the custody case learned what Holloway had done, he subpoenaed her for a deposition. That's when Holloway made misleading statements, the JQC said.

    Holloway disagreed with the finding that she tried to influence the detective. She has said she was just acting as a citizen concerned about the progress of a case.

    Ordinarily, it would be okay for a judge to call a detective about a case not before him, the JQC said. But not in the context of Holloway's role in her friend's case.

    Speaking in a stern voice Friday, Holloway accused the JQC of trying to force her to admit that she lied. When she wouldn't agree, "the tide changed dramatically," her lawyer said.

    The weekend before her October trial, the JQC rejected a deal Holloway thought she had worked out. In the deal, she accepted a reprimand and a 10-day suspension, but didn't admit to lying.

    "It is sad to say but Judge Holloway would not be here today but for the fact that she refused to be strong-armed by the JQC," said Tozian, her lawyer.

    JQC chairman James Wolf, who is a state appeals court judge, said Friday that the agency's handlings of the case was "perfectly appropriate."

    He noted that the hearing panel found that the JQC had proven all charges against Holloway.

    "We saw misconduct on behalf of the judge, and we proceeded to prosecute," Wolfe said.

    - Times staff writer David Karp can be reached at 226-3376 or karp@sptimes.com.

    Did the judge tell the truth?

    The central question in the misconduct case against Hillsborough Circuit Judge Cynthia Holloway is: Did she give a false or misleading answer under oath?

    STATEMENT OF JUDGE CYNTHIA HOLLOWAY:

    "What I have not done, and what appears to have led to us being here today, is admit that I have lied. I did not lie at my deposition. And, in the words of my children, if I were to admit to the JQC that I did lie at a deposition in an effort to resolve the JQC inquiry, then that would be a lie just the same. It is my understanding that the (JQC) Hearing Panel agrees that I did not lie and so on that accord I feel vindicated."

    FINDINGS OF JQC HEARING PANEL

    "It was simply unacceptable that Judge Holloway would testify that she had absolutely no contact with Judge Stoddard when everyone present in the room at her deposition knew she had in fact directly contacted Judge Stoddard on March 3, 2000, and that shortly thereafter he disqualified himself in the case. ... (W)e do no accept Judge Holloway's explanation that she intended and planned to answer absolutely no deposition questions regarding her contact with Judge Stoddard ... Therefore the Panel finds that the testimony and errata sheet were misleading and thus finds Judge Holloway guilty as to these charges ..."

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