Broward County judge: 'Closer to my house, the higher the bond'

Judge Joel Lazarus now banned from criminal court

By Bob Norman - Investigative Reporter

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Broward County senior Judge Joel Lazarus was preparing for first appearance court on when he made a controversial statement on an open microphone to a prosecutor. 

"I'll double the bond to those that take place in my neighborhood," Lazarus said. 

The judge was talking that Jan. 21 morning about a burglary defendant who apparently committed his crime near Lazarus' home. 

"Closer to my house, the higher the bond," he continued. "That was always Lazarus' rule."

"I have no problem with that," the prosecutor said. 

But many in the courthouse did have a problem with the judge's statement, which was broadcast live on the internet, none more so than Broward County public defender Howard Finkelstein. 

"What I saw on that video was completely un-judge like, unprofessional and unethical," Finkelstein said. 

Finkelstein fired off a letter to Chief Judge Jack Tuter requesting that Lazarus be banned from all criminal court matters in the future, writing that Lazarus had undermined "our community's faith in the integrity and independence  of the judiciary."

"What that conveys to the people in the courtroom or to the people watching in public is the fix is in," Finkelstein said.

Tuter told Local 10 News on Thursday that he informed Lazarus, who usually works civil foreclosure cases, that he is barred not only from ever presiding over first appearance again, but that he is also banned from all matters involving criminal court, saying the statement was "clearly inappropriate." 

Lazarus, for his part, acknowledged that his words were "unfortunate," but claimed that he said them only jokingly and that he did not raise the bond of the case in question. 

"People say things in jest all the time," he said. "It was unfortunate. I shouldn't have said it. … There was no action taken on it."

Finkelstein said that, if it was a joke, it wasn't funny. 

"It was the exact thing that a judge should never do," he said.

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