Judicial panel drops charge against judge
By CHRISTOPHER GOFFARD, Times Staff Writer
TAMPA -- The agency that oversees Florida judges has dismissed charges against Hillsborough Judge Gregory Holder after he apologized for the way he answered a question on an application to become a federal judge.
In January, the Judicial Qualifications Commission charged Holder with giving misleading information last year when he answered "no" to Question 19, which asked whether he had ever been the subject of a complaint for misbehavior.
The JQC said Holder should have disclosed two private meetings with the JQC chairman in which he was cautioned about his behavior.
The first meeting, in 1998, concerned remarks Holder made about a ruling in a juvenile case, remarks the JQC considered "intemperate." The second, in 2001, concerned an incident in which Holder angrily threw handcuffs on his desk at a court hearing.
But Holder said he never saw actual complaints against him and learned in judicial college that private meetings with the JQC couldn't be disclosed. Holder, a colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, was prepared to fight the JQC charges at a trial. He said he would not agree to any settlement with the JQC that required him to admit he gave a false answer.
Holder's agreement with the JQC, made public Friday, gave him what he wanted.
In it, Holder acknowledges the JQC believed that Question 19 referred to "any and all complaints" about a judge, including confidential discussions that did not stem from a formal complaint. Holder admitted his answer to the question was incorrect, "and in hindsight, regrets his answer," the agreement reads.
For its part, the JQC acknowledged that Question 19 could reasonably be interpreted to refer to formal complaints, as Holder read it.
"Justice has finally been served in this case," Holder said Friday. "All of us are extremely pleased this matter has been resolved, and we as a judiciary can move forward to restore public trust and confidence."
JQC executive director Brooke Kennerly said the Holder case represented the first time in the agency's 34-year history that charges against a judge were dismissed as a result of a stipulation.
In many cases, a stipulation results in a judge agreeing to a public reprimand.
Holder, who won election to a county judge seat in 1994 and to a circuit judge seat two years later, has gained a reputation as an enemy of the tight-lipped, closed-door culture that for years dominated the Hillsborough courthouse.
In recent years Holder demanded action against a judge accused of sexually harassing women, Edward Ward, and of another who was caught in Holder's chambers after hours, Robert Bonanno. Both Ward and Bonanno resigned under pressure.
-- Christopher Goffard can be reached at 226-3337 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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