Downey's defense

A Times Editorial
Published February 20, 2006

Having kept silent about alleged Internet pornography searches, sexual harassment and evidence tampering, Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Brandt Downey employs a pedestrian defense in his first formal response. He stalls and blames others.

Downey's response to the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission, earlier this month, was more than a day late and a dollar short. He missed the deadline by roughly two weeks and then responded to only one of the three charges against him. He demanded more information before he would respond further.

In any other court venue, including the civil court over which Downey presides, such tardiness could easily have led to legal default and an adverse judgment. Is there a different standard for Downey? Is the JQC willing to let him run out the clock until his scheduled retirement?

Downey is representing himself in this case, which raises its own set of questions. Is he using his courthouse office to prepare his defense, his judicial secretary to draw up and transmit the papers? Which case currently before him is his highest priority: the one he must oversee as a judge or the one he is waging against the JQC?

In his court filing, Downey breezily admits to having used his courthouse computer to search pornographic Web sites. But he then blames a fellow judge for the audacity to tell the public what he was doing. "It was the unethical reporting of this matter to the press," he wrote, "... that brought (me) to this position."

No, it was Downey's own fingers, which repeatedly tooled around the Internet for the latest in porn. A courthouse clerk with the same habits likely would have been fired on the spot.

Though Downey may take offense that a fellow judge would reveal his secrets, he seems to forget that the public pays his salary. If stalling and finger-pointing are the best he can do, then the JQC need not be so patient.