FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - A Broward County judge is fighting a Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission recommendation that she be suspended without pay after she put her hands on a court employee who didn't have her papers for her afternoon docket ready for her.
The Florida Supreme Court made good Friday on the recommendation to suspend Judge Gina Hawkins, one day after the Investigative Panel of the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission filed a notice of formal charges against her.
According to the notice, Hawkins "instigated a physical confrontation with a court employee" in June.
"You sought out the confrontation by interrupting the employee's work in another courtroom and summoning him into a secure hallway," the notice said. "As he walked through the door, you placed your hands around the neck of the employee and shook him. Your actions were captured on a courthouse security camera."
Surveillance video of the incident was released Friday.
The notice claims Hawkins was upset because the employee didn't have her 2 p.m. docket available for her to review that morning.
In its recommendation for suspension, the JQC claims Hawkins later apologized but maintained she never touched the employee, but merely "invaded his personal space."
"In her statement, Judge Hawkins also explains her belief that she and the employee were 'fairly friendly' and described her actions as engaging in 'jest,'" the JQC wrote.
During a July 12 hearing, Hawkins testified that she "wasn't angry at all."
"However, under questioning from the Investigative Panel, and upon reviewing the video with the Panel, Judge Hawkins finally acknowledged that she 'touched' and 'shook' the employee,'" the JQC wrote.
The Investigative Panel recommended, by not less than two-thirds of its members concurring, that Hawkins be suspended without pay.
"The Investigative Panel of the Commission does not find Judge Hawkins' testimony that she was 'calm' and 'not at all angry' credible, and having reviewed the statements and video evidence, the Panel does not believe that her actions were in 'jest,'" the recommendation for suspension said. "The Panel is further concerned by Judge Hawkins inability to understand that even in jest, her conduct was wholly inappropriate."
David Bogenschutz, an attorney representing Hawkins in the matter, wrote a response challenging the recommendation.
Bogenschutz wrote that Hawkins self-reported the incident to the JQC after Chief Judge Jack Tuter informed her that a complaint had been made. He said his client has always maintained that her actions were inappropriate.
"I take full responsibility for it," Hawkins said during her hearing, according to Bogenschutz.
Bogenschutz said there is nothing in Hawkins' past "that would warrant or merit the draconian response to this several seconds-long incident with a suspension without pay."
"She has an unblemished career as a prosecutor and private practitioner, as well as a police officer," he wrote. "She has been a circuit court judge, at the time of this incident, for approximately six months, beginning what, for all intents and purposes, appears to be an outstanding career on the Circuit Court of the 17th Judicial Circuit."
Hawkins' courtroom was closed Friday morning.
The Florida Supreme Court's suspension took effect as of 5 p.m. Friday, pending the outcome of the investigation.
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