Charge dropped in judge's trial
By DAVID KARP
© St. Petersburg Times,
TAMPA -- After they had finished calling witnesses and making accusations against Hillsborough Circuit Judge Cynthia Holloway, attorneys for the Judicial Qualifications Commission dropped one of seven charges against her Tuesday.
The decision came on the last day of Holloway's misconduct trial, as JQC attorneys called for her removal from the bench.
The JQC's timing outraged Holloway's lawyers, who have argued from the beginning that the charge had no merit. They accused the JQC of making it solely to damage Holloway's reputation and humiliate her in public.
"That's not right. It's in the newspaper. It was on the TV," said attorney Michael Rywant, getting choked up in court. "Her kids saw it. That's not right."
The JQC added the charge in June, months after the JQC had charged Holloway with interfering in a child custody case. The charge accused Holloway of using her power as a judge to help a friend stop tree trimmers from cutting oak trees near the friend's law firm in Hyde Park.
On Monday, Randy Emmerman, a property manager who wanted the trees trimmed, testified that Holloway appeared one Saturday in June 1999 after attorney Jeanne Tate called her. He said Holloway demanded that the tree cutters stop. She threatened to have him arrested if they continued, he said.
But Tate testified late Monday that Emmerman wasn't there that Saturday, leading attorneys to drop the charge.
The decision left six charges that Holloway abused her power to help family and friends. Specifically, the JQC said Holloway interfered in a friend's custody case by berating Judge Ralph Stoddard, by calling a police detective involved in the case and then lying about the call under oath. Holloway also asked Judge Katherine Essrig to speed along her brother's divorce, the JQC said.
On the stand, Holloway admitted she made a mistake by speaking to Stoddard about her friend's custody case. Holloway went to Stoddard's office, pointed her finger and suggested that a lawyer must have pictures of Stoddard with a dog for Stoddard to have made the decision he had in the custody case.
Holloway said she realized her error "as soon as the words came out of my mouth." Her behavior embarrassed her, she said.
Except for that error, though, Holloway denied violating any ethical codes.
Holloway admitted to calling a police detective investigating a sexual abuse allegation in her friend's custody case, but said she didn't try to influence him.
Holloway said she simply asked the detective to conduct a forensic interview of the 4-year-old girl quickly.
"It's a small child," said Holloway. "I didn't want it to go by the wayside."
JQC prosecutors pointed out that the case was only a day or two old. And police weren't sure the accusation warranted a forensic interview.
Several months later, the father in the custody case decided to question Holloway under oath about her actions.
The father asked Holloway if she had contacted the detective. She denied it. The father also asked if she had contacted Judge Stoddard "in any way." She denied it.
Later, Holloway filed a correction to her deposition, acknowledging she had called the detective.
She also claimed that her answer about not contacting Stoddard referred to one specific day when she did not contact Stoddard.
"Judge Holloway did not lie in this deposition or anywhere else," said Rywant, her attorney.
JQC prosecutors said Holloway lied because she didn't want the public to find out about her behavior.
As a judge, Holloway should have answered questions under oath directly, even if it would embarrass her or damage her career, JQC special counsel Beatrice Butchko said.
"She should have answered it outright," Butchko said. "What kind of games (was she) playing?"
The JQC jury panel could take several months before releasing a recommendation, which goes to the Florida Supreme Court for a final decision.
The panel could call for an admonishment or reprimand, as Holloway's lawyers suggested, or for a suspension or removal from the bench, as JQC attorneys are suggesting.
- David Karp may be contacted at (813) 226-3376 or email@example.com.
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