tampabay.com

Judges brashly judged by blog

By COLLEEN JENKINS AND ABBIE VANSICKLE
Published May 25, 2007


When it came time to elect a new chief judge earlier this year, some Hillsborough judges quietly suggested adding the issue of term limits to the confidential ballots.

The push went no farther than an anonymous straw poll.

Things aren't so discreet down in Broward County.

Since August, legal types there have found a new guilty pleasure in JAABlog JAABlog.jaablaw.com, a blog created by the Justice Advocacy Association of Broward.

Founders say the public forum helps expose courthouse problems such as cronyism, nepotism and judges who run unopposed.

But in recent newspaper stories, critics argue it has dissolved into disparagement without purpose. One poster called a judge an "evil, unfair witch." Others have called for the chief judge's ouster. One archived section is called "mentally ill judges."

Not everyone signs his or her name.

Before you rush out to start a local version, take note: An ethics professor told the Miami Herald that lawyers may face sanctions with the Florida Bar if they recklessly defame judges.

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In case you missed the news this week, Noah the St. Bernard won't be making as frequent visits to the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office. Prosecutor Pam Bondi returned her adopted pet Tuesday to its original owners, who were separated from the dog after Hurricane Katrina.

Her decision ended a court fight that was headed to trial in Pinellas County in July.

Bondi said she was at peace with the decision. But she won't be bringing home a new puppy anytime soon.

"I have a 16-year-old cat (Chester) who is ready to be king of the household, " she said Tuesday.

King of her office for now: a St. Bernard stuffed animal that some colleagues spotted at a thrift store. They called to see if she wanted it. Of course she did.

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For the second time in six months, a Florida Bar grievance committee has found probable cause that attorney Arnold Levine violated some of the rules regulating lawyers.

That means another formal complaint will be forwarded to the state Supreme Court, where Levine will have a chance to dispute the allegations.

The committee found probable cause on May 8. But the finding does not become final for 30 days, meaning the details about the complaint are not yet public record.

The Bar would only confirm that Circuit Judge Richard Nielsen filed the complaint against Levine and that the violations relate to misconduct; impartiality and decorum of the tribunal; and fairness to the opposing party and counsel.

The other probable cause finding resulted from a complaint by Circuit Judge Gregory Holder, who said the veteran attorney had attempted to "engineer" the judge's disqualification from a case. That case is pending.

Got a tip? For cops news, contact Abbie VanSickle at vansickle@ sptimes.com or (813) 226-3373. For courts news, contact Colleen Jenkins at cjenkins@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3337.