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Judge insists he did not harass
By GRAHAM BRINK
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 23, 2000
TAMPA -- Circuit Judge Edward H. Ward admitted Wednesday to kissing a female judge, inviting a woman into his office for beer and sending personal e-mails to other women who work at the courthouse, but he denied his conduct constituted sexual harassment.
In a two-page response to sexual harassment charges leveled by the state's Judicial Qualifications Commission, which oversees judicial conduct, Ward made it clear he will contest the charges and is not about to resign.
"Judge Ward has the utmost respect for the integrity of the judicial system and wants to continue to discharge his judicial duties consistent with his obligations and responsibilities as a judge," the response said.
The JQC began investigating after hearing about complaints from women who work in the courthouse, including judges and judicial assistants. The JQC concluded earlier this month that Ward, a judge in Hillsborough for 18 years, had engaged in a pattern of sexual harassment, and gave him 20 days to respond.
Woody Isom, the husband of Circuit Judge Claudia Isom, said he was disappointed Ward wouldn't admit to making unwelcome advances toward his wife.
"It's sad that Judge Ward is sustaining that Claudia and the other three women somehow invited this on," he said. "By not taking full responsibility, that is the impression he's left."
Ward, who has not spoken publicly about the charges, could not be reached for comment Wednesday. His lawyer, Ben Hill, said his client was disappointed the allegations had gone this far.
"He continues to perform his judicial duties, none of which have been affected by what's going on," Hill said.
In the first three months of 1998, according to the JQC, Ward sent several unwelcome e-mails of a personal and sexual nature to Michelle Boylan, judicial assistant to Judge Dick Greco Jr. About the same time, Ward forwarded sexually explicit e-mails to Judge Isom, the JQC said.
The charges also alleged that Ward came to the courthouse after drinking "at least one beer" while on vacation in August 1999. He stopped by judicial assistant D.D. Agostini's office to ask her to have a beer in his chambers, a request he had made before, according to the charges. Agostini declined, as she had the previous invitations.
Ward, 63, also approached Judge Vivian Maye while she was working and kissed her without her consent, the JQC said.
In his response filed Wednesday, Ward said that in 1998 he and Judge Isom had danced to music from the Dirty Dancing movie soundtrack as part of a skit and that they had exchanged e-mails, some of which were personal. He also admitted to sending e-mails to Boylan and inviting Agostini to his office for beer.
Ward said he went into Maye's office on one occasion and gave her a kiss and hug. He denied that it was against Maye's consent.
"None of the actions herein described was intended to sexually harass," he said in the response.
Tom McDonald, the JQC's general counsel, said he received a copy of Ward's response along with a letter Ward wrote to the chairman of the JQC hearing panel. In the letter, Ward wrote that he regretted any embarrassment the situation had caused. He also agreed to enroll in counseling, McDonald said.
"It's unusual for someone in Ward's position to include a personal letter addressed to the chairman," McDonald said.
The JQC could accept Ward's explanation and end its investigation, but that is considered unlikely. Instead, a special counsel is expected to be appointed to investigate further.
Eventually, both sides would present their cases at a trial in front of a six-person panel. At that time, testimony and evidence, such as the exact wording of the e-mails, would become public.
If the panel sustains the charges, Ward faces punishment ranging from a reprimand to removal from office.
The Florida Supreme Court makes the final decision. The process can take months and sometimes more than a year. Ward, who is married and has three children, continues to work full time while the investigation continues.
© St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.