Judge cleared of 4 charges; 2 still stand
By CURTIS KRUEGER, Times Staff Writer
"I'm very, very pleased," Cope said Wednesday at the conclusion of his trial before the Judicial Qualifications Commission, which oversees the state's judges.
Asked what caused the JQC's hearing panel to dismiss four of the six allegations against him, Cope said, "the truth."
The JQC left standing one charge of public intoxication and another of "inappropriate conduct of an intimate nature." Cope faces a separate, criminal trial in California next month on five misdemeanors, including prowling.
His attorney Bob Merkle predicted Cope will return to the bench.
"I'm very, very thankful to the JQC, and I really mean that, and to Judge (James) Jorgenson, for what was a very fair hearing under very difficult circumstances," Merkle said.
John Mills, attorney for the JQC, declined to comment afterward but seemed frustrated as he delivered his closing arguments on just two of the six noncriminal charges originally leveled against Cope.
The hearing panel's decision to drop the four allegations seems to indicate members did not put much stock in the testimony of Lisa V. Jeanes, the veterinarian who said earlier this week that Cope had made unwelcome advances to her. She declined to comment after Wednesday's ruling.
Now the question is what the two remaining counts will mean for Cope. If the JQC and the Florida Supreme Court uphold the charges, Cope still could face a variety of sanctions, including reprimand, suspension, a fine or removal from the bench. He could be cleared of those allegations as well.
Panel members will deliberate for weeks or perhaps months on those counts.
In the meantime, Cope faces his separate criminal trial in California. Like the JQC case, the criminal charges began with an April 2001 judicial conference that Cope attended in Carmel, Calif.
Cope, 53, went out for a walk while intoxicated. He met two women, a 64-year-old doctor and her 31-year-old daughter, Jeanes, having a conversation on their hotel balcony. The women also were intoxicated.
Later, Cope walked on the beach with Jeanes. She says he tried to kiss her repeatedly. She finally ran away, saying she was terrified.
Cope testified the pair passionately kissed and returned to his hotel room for foreplay that stopped short of sex. Jeanes said Cope is lying.
The next night, the women said, Cope used a key he stole from them to try to break into their hotel room. Merkle vigorously denies that.
But the JQC's six-person hearing panel rejected the formal claims that Cope: stole a hotel key from the women; attempted to break into their hotel room; lied to police; and failed to disclose his arrest to the JQC "or anyone else."
With those four charges wiped away, Mills, the JQC's attorney, focused his closing arguments on the remaining two.
Mills said Cope knew all along that judges are required to maintain their judicial integrity at all times, he said. But Cope did not.
"Judge Cope was a judge when he went to his hotel room and got so drunk he passed out," Mills said. Cope himself acknowledged drinking and kissing Jeanes at a time when "he knew she was intoxicated, he knew she was upset," Mills argued.
"I'm saying a man with integrity does not try to have sex with a woman in that position who's 20 years younger than him," Mills said.
He pointed out that if Cope returns to the bench, possibly handling domestic violence cases, young women trying to get away from abusive men may come before him in court. But Cope's actions -- even those he admitted to -- are "not a sign of someone fit to sit in judgment of others."
Mills also said he was "personally embarrassed that Lisa Jeanes was put on trial," in which she testified about personal matters such as having had abortions.
Merkle said he wasn't going to argue that Cope's behavior was appropriate. He acknowledged his client committed an affront "to his wife and family for which he will pay a price for the rest of his life." He also acknowledged Cope has received treatment for alcoholism.
But he added, "we don't hang alcoholics in this country, not any more we don't." He also cited previous JQC cases in which the commission said private sexual encounters did not in themselves violate judicial canons.
He said that when Cope approached Jeanes on the beach there was "no evidence that she did not go willingly." And that, "when she said stop, he stopped."
Although Wednesday's developments may prompt some to ask how vigorously the JQC probes judicial misconduct allegations, Stetson University College of Law professor Bobbi Flowers said the state's legal community generally believes "the JQC has been very serious about going forward" and investigating such cases.
She said the JQC took an aggressive stance by proceeding with the case, even though California has not completed its separate criminal case against Cope.
Status of the case
The Judicial Qualifications Commission dismissed four allegations of judicial misconduct against Circuit Judge Charles Cope on Wednesday, and let two others stand.
These four allegations were dismissed:
That Cope stole a hotel room key.
That Cope was "prowling" and attempted to break into the hotel room of Lisa V. Jeanes and her mother.
That Cope lied to police about whether he walked directly back to his hotel after eating in a restaurant.
That Cope failed to disclose his arrest until he was asked about it by the Pasco-Pinellas chief judge.
Cope still faces these two allegations:
Six people are serving on the JQC's hearing panel in this case, and one of them, James Jorgenson, presided over the trial. He is an appellate judge from Miami. The other five panel members are: Leonard Feiner, a judge from Broward County; Martin Garcia, a St. Petersburg attorney; Susan Gummey of Daytona Beach; Mary Ross of Tampa; and Thomas Schultz, an attorney from Miami
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