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Supreme Court explains Downey deal

Despite seeming irritated by the JQC compromise, justices approved a deal to let the judge retire at the end of the year.

Published July 14, 2006

The Florida Supreme Court made it official Thursday: Pinellas Judge Brandt Downey will retire at year's end and never again seek judicial office.

The state high court released an opinion Thursday explaining why it approved an agreement between Downey and the Judicial Qualifications Commission, which oversees state judges.

The JQC charged Downey last year with viewing pornography on his office computer, pursuing improper relationships with female lawyers and disregarding evidence of a sleeping juror during a murder trial.

The JQC and Downey worked out a compromise in which Downey would receive a public reprimand, write a letter of apology, retire at the end of the year and never seek judicial office again.

As part of the agreement, Downey admitted only the pornography charges. The other cases were essentially dropped, though Downey did admit to the justices during a hearing last month that his actions regarding the female lawyers were improper.

Some justices seemed perturbed that not all the charges would be pursued, but they accepted the agreement the next day. The state high court, which has the power to accept or reject a JQC agreement but cannot modify it, issued its formal decision Thursday.

Downey said Thursday the female lawyers signed affidavits indicating they had no complaints against him. He denies his actions rose to the level of sexual harassment.

"I think the JQC knew I would have prevailed," Downey said.

Though the justices' opinion states that they remain deeply troubled by the charges, particularly those involving the female lawyers, they approved of the settlement because it "presents a reasonable, expeditious and assured way of securing Judge Downey's permanent removal from office."

The court also noted that pursuing all the charges likely would result in a trial that would occur after Downey's retirement. Not only could he be cleared of the charges, he could run again for office, the court noted.

"Thus the practical and definitive effect of accepting the stipulation and the JQC's recommendation is that it ensures that Judge Downey will longer serve as a judge after Jan. 1, 2007," the opinion states.

The court also gained the impression that the sexual harassment charges, though not pursued, upped the punishment for the pornography violations.

"Although the allegations of sexual harassment ... are extremely serious and very disturbing to this court, we again note that this count as charged has been denied and remains unproven. Nonetheless, we recognize that the JQC and Judge Downey have not totally ignored the allegations ... (and) the JQC has recommended and Judge Downey has stipulated to a much harsher sanction than a public reprimand and apology."

The opinion also notes that Downey's judicial career, which began in 1984, was otherwise unmarred by scandal. The judge also sought psychological counseling and was remorseful, according to the JQC.

"For the most part, my performance as a judge has been exemplary," Downey said Thursday.

The court is scheduled to publicly reprimand Downey Sept. 22.

[Last modified July 14, 2006, 00:46:43]

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