Just a few years ago, South Florida judges were appearing regularly in the news for varying degrees of insensitivity and scandal.
Then, the halls of justice grew relatively quiet — until Tuesday night when a Broward judge was arrested in Boca Raton on a charge of DUI.
Circuit Judge Cynthia Imperato's arrest reminds us of past cases of judges who came into the spotlight. If there were a "Judges Gone Wild" reality show, some may have nabbed starring roles.
"These things used to occur with alarming regularity," said defense attorney Bill Gelin, whose Jaablog chronicles judicial behavior and courthouse goings on. "[Imperato's arrest] is a throwback to the reckless behaviors of the past.
"It was kind of like, here we go again ... dysfunction junction."
Among the judges' missteps: making disparaging remarks in court, making sophomoric jokes about a sex-crime victim, and having a secret exchange of messages with a prosecutor while a trial was going on. As a result, some resigned amid the scrutiny, some were reassigned and some quietly carried on after the dust had settled.
Here are the judges.
Arrested on DUI charge
After attending a social legal function in Boca Raton, Broward Circuit Judge Cynthia Imperato was pulled over late Tuesday after an officer saw her driving erratically and a driver called 911 to report that she nearly sideswiped him, police say.
Imperato, 56, spent the night in jail. She was given a Dec. 2 court date.
Imperato has asked that she be transferred out of the felony criminal division while her misdemeanor case is pending.
When she returns to work this coming week, she likely will begin handling foreclosure cases in the civil division.
Broward Circuit Judge Leonard Feiner sparked controversy in July 2005 when he disparaged the court's primarily Haitian-American custodial staff for leaving his bench in disarray, saying "They may live in hovels … but they don't have to leave courtrooms and places they work looking like a slum."
Part of Feiner's comments were captured on a courtroom recording system, a court transcript showed. He said he didn't mean for his comments to be misconstrued as racially insensitive. He apologized to a custodial supervisor. Later, he requested a new assignment to eliminate unwanted focus on circuit/criminal divisions.
Feiner retired in 2012. He receives a monthly pension of $6,568.
'Held to higher standard'
In October 2007, Broward Circuit Judge Jeffrey Levenson and an attorney joked while working out jury instruction in a case. A man had been charged with unlawful sexual activity for having consensual sex with a 16-year-old football player, they wisecracked about what position the boy played — tight end or wide receiver.
Levenson immediately apologized in the courtroom, at a judge's meeting and in an interview with the Sun Sentinel, acknowledging that judges are "held to a higher standard" and that he had crossed the line and "exhibitied insensitivity."
Levenson continues to preside in criminal court.
Reprimand over comments
The Judicial Qualifications Commission's investigative panel on Oct. 31 filed formal charges against Palm Beach County Judge Barry M. Cohen, charging him with using his position as a "bully pulpit" and undermining the role of a judge "as a neutral and detached magistrate."
Cohen has agreed to accept a public reprimand from the Florida Supreme Court. Cohen has admitted that he shouldn't have ranted about racial profiling, questioned the cases the state attorney's brought to trial or written letters to the editor about political races.
Cohen continues to preside over criminal cases. The Florida Supreme Court has not yet ruled on the recommended reprimand.
Humor attempt goes awry
Broward chief judge at the time, Broward Circuit Judge Dale Ross in February 2007 made sarcastic quips from the bench about rap music and NASCAR fans and jokingly sentenced a Spanish-speaking defendant to 10 Hail Marys and penance.
Ross insisted his comments were not inappropriate or mean-spirited but meant to bring levity to the courtroom.
Three months later, Ross announced that after a 16-year reign as chief judge — the state's longest — he was stepping down from the position. Ross now presides over civil cases.
Broward Circuit Judge Ana Gardiner is facing the loss of her law license for lying about a clandestine cellphone and text message relationship with a prosecutor while presiding over a 2007 capital murder trial.
Gardiner sidestepped a judicial misconduct complaint when she resigned from the bench in 2010 and agreed to never again seek a judgeship. She remained vulnerable, however, to discipline by the Florida Bar.
A judge who oversaw the Bar's misconduct inquiry last December said Gardiner's "dishonesty and deceit" warranted a one-year suspension of her law license. The Florida Bar is asking that she be disbarred. The Florida Supreme Court has not yet decided upon her discipline.
After leaving the bench, Gardiner joined the private civil litigation firm of Cole, Scott & Kissane but she no longer works there. An office manager on Thursday declined to say when Gardiner left the firm.
Because Gardiner has opted for an investment plan retiree account rather than a traditional pension plan, her account figures are not public record, state officials said.
Broward County Judge Robert Diaz served a two-week suspension in August 2005 for sending anonymous emails to a fellow judge implying the judge was reporting illegal immigrants to federal authorities. He also anonymously emailed the Broward County Hispanic Bar Association.
Diaz won re-election in November 2012 to a six-year term.
Among the most attention-grabbing judicial scandals was that of former Broward Circuit Judge Joyce Julian's 2001 arrest on the charge of disorderly intoxication at an Amelia Island judicial conference.
She was found disoriented and naked from the waist down in a hotel hallway and falsely claimed that she had been drugged and sexually assaulted, police said.
Julian's drunken shenanigans included loud and abusive behavior, falling on the dance floor, crashing a private party and culminated with hotel security finding her disoriented and pantsless in a hallway, according to police and witnesses.
In 2002, in documents filed in response to a state Judicial Qualifications Commission complaint, she acknowledged she was "extremely intoxicated" during the incident. Also, in statements during her bid for re-election a year later, Julian acknowledged "hitting rock bottom," and appealed to the public for empathy, at the time saying that she suffered from alcoholism, a sickness that strikes people of all professions.
Prosecutors dropped Julian's misdemeanor charges because she checked herself into an alcohol rehabilitation program. After she lost re-election, she went into private practice. She has not yet opted to receive her monthly judicial retirement pension.
Broward Circuit Judge Charles Greene caused uproar in April 2007, when he used the term "NHI" or "no humans involved" after jurors acquitted a man of attempted murder in a case where the victim, defendant and witnesses were all black.
Greene said he used the phrase with no intended racial implications or overtone to describe how the jury weighed the witness' credibility. But in the aftermath, Greene stepped down as the county's chief criminal judge and asked to be transferred from the criminal to the civil division where he remains, presiding over civil and probate cases.
Steps down after citation
In March 2007, Hollywood police officers cited Broward Circuit Judge Larry Korda, saying they saw him smoking a joint under a tree near a group of children in Stanley Goldman Park.
Rather than face a judicial inquiry over the arrest, Korda resigned and went into private family-mediation work. The misdemeanor marijuana charge was dismissed, because Korda passed six months of random drug testing, completed 25 hours of community service and 10 hours of drug-and-alcohol-awareneess meetings.
He collects a monthly pension of $9,525.
Sobbing on TV
Broward Circuit Judge Larry Seidlin's televised sobbing histrionics were televised in February 2007 while presiding over the six-day hearing to decide where Anna Nicole Smith should be buried after her overdose death. It resulted in criticism by legal pundits and two unflattering lampoonings on Saturday Night Live.
He abruptly resigned in June 2007 amid rumors that he was pursuing a court TV show and allegations that he had exploited a wealthy neighbor. A civil case that accused Seidlin of fleecing the neighbor of money and property ended in a confidential settlement. The show never materialized but Seidlin did write a book called "The Killing of Anna Nicole Smith."
Seidlin remains a member in good standing with the Florida Bar, but his attorney said Seidlin's "happily retired." He collects a monthly pension of $9,850.
Resigns amid allegations
Palm Beach County Judge Howard C. Berman stepped down from the bench in November 2001 amid sexual harassment claims lodged by four women.
Berman vehemently denied the allegations. But his resignation came three days before he was set to defend himself before a state panel against allegations ranging from fondling a probation officer to threatening a defense attorney with retaliation if she accused him of harassment.
He collects a monthly pension of $6,594.
Staff writer Marc Freeman contributed to this report.
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