Former judge defines what "social" means

In her Florida Bar trial this week, former Broward Circuit Judge Ana Gardiner provided an interesting explanation for why she misled the Judicial Qualifications Commission about the extent of her relationship with a prosecutor. 

Gardiner, who wept through much of her testimony, had told the JQC under oath that she only occasionally saw then-Assistant State Attorney Howard Scheinberg at occasional judicial events. It turned out that she had a "significant personal and emotional relationship" with Scheinberg that included thousands of calls and text messages, at times averaging 22 a day, many of them during a death penalty case he was trying in Gardiner's courtroom.

Gardiner testified on the stand Wednesday that she didn't consider the phone calls and the texts to be "social" because she wasn't in physical contact with Scheinberg at the time.

"What did you believe a social relationship to mean?" asked her attorney, David Bogenschutz.

"A social relationship to me is a relationship where you get together," she said. "Maybe you have lunch maybe you go shopping maybe you do whatever, but you get together physically and you socialize."

Will Palm Beach County Circuit Judge David Crow buy that explanation? He is expected to decide sometime next month.

Gardiner said she never even considered disclosing her relationship with Scheinberg to murder defendant Omar Loureiro or his attorneys in the death penalty case. She said it didn't cross her mind because they weren't discussing the trial.

"I didn't believe it was necessary we didn't talk about the case at all," she said. "... We all knew each other and I was not talking about the case and in no way whatsoever would I have thought I would in any way hurt or affect Mr. Loureiro."

Gardiner, who resigned her judgeship in 2010 after the JQC found she had been dishonest, sentenced Loureiro to death but the trial was tossed after the relationship was exposed. Loureiro was retried and is now serving life in prison.

One problem with Gardiner's claim on the witness stand that she never talked about the trial is that at least two witnesses who testified under oath to the JQC that they personally witnessed the judge and prosecutor talking about the case while partying together at the TimpanoChophouse on Las Olas Boulevard before a verdict was reached. I'll be reporting on that aspect of the case against Gardiner today, so stay tuned.