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SupremeCourt sets hearing for Renke

The state's top court granted the request for a hearing on the factual findings in earlier ethics proceedings against the Pasco-Pinellas judge.

Published February 1, 2006

The Florida Supreme Court has not yet decided Circuit Judge John Renke III's fate on ethics charges, the court said Tuesday.

First, the court wants more answers.

To get them, the court will hear oral arguments April 4 from attorneys for Renke and the Judicial Qualifications Commission, which filed the charges against Pasco County's youngest judge more than two years ago.

"...The parties are advised that the Court has made no decision of whether to accept or reject the recommended discipline," the court's order said Tuesday.

The move marks the second time the state's high court has opted against accepting outright a recommended punishment for the 36-year-old Renke. In July 2004, justices rejected without explanation a monthlong suspension, a $20,000 fine and a public reprimand.

The case went to trial in September. A JQC hearing panel found that Renke deliberately misrepresented his qualifications and accepted $95,800 in illegal contributions during his successful 2002 campaign for a Pasco-Pinellas circuit judgeship.

Because Renke had shown himself to be a fit judge, the panel said, it did not recommend his removal from the bench. It instead proposed a public reprimand and a $40,000 fine, essentially the same penalty previously thrown out by the state Supreme Court.

Renke chose not to contest the JQC's recommendations but sought permission to counter the factual findings in the event the Supreme Court imposed a tougher punishment.

The court is offering him that chance now. Renke can contest the factual findings during oral arguments, and the court also will accept briefs prior to April 4 on the appropriateness of the suggested punishment.

Oral arguments, heard at the Supreme Court in Tallahassee, are fairly commonplace in cases that go to trial, said JQC executive director Brooke Kennerly. Each side has no more than 20 minutes to argue its case, and justices can ask questions at any point.

"It's kind of like a final exam," Kennerly said. "You have to sort of be ready for anything they're going to ask you."

Colleen Jenkins covers courts in west Pasco County. She can be reached at 727 869-6236 or

[Last modified February 1, 2006, 01:22:35]

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