JQC: Kick Judge Off Bench For Ethics Violations





Broward Circuit Judge Laura Watson should be removed from the bench for “serious, flagrant violations of ethical rules,” a judge presiding over her ethics trial recommended this week.

Judge Kerry Evander of the Fifth District Court of Appeal wrote the Florida Supreme Court that Watson demonstrated an unfitness to serve.

Watson’s two-attorney firm was criticized for taking too much money from a multi-million insurance settlement before she was a judge.  The firm was slapped with a $981,792 judgement for “unjust enrichment” by Palm Beach County Circuit Judge David Crow, who referred the case to the Florida Bar.

Crow believed there were violations of seven rules of the Bar.

Once Watson was elected judge in 2012, the Bar passed the case to the Judicial Qualifications Commission, which has authority over the ethical rules governing judges.  Evander was the judge in the JQC trial in February.

Evander noted that Watson refused to admit any wrongdoing and that instead she attacked the validity of the JQC panel.

“Judges are held to stricter ethical standards than lawyers because more rectitude is expected of them. Judge Watson’s present lack of understanding of the rules regulating the Florida Bar, and the most basic ethical obligations imposed on lawyers, amply demonstrates ‘present unfitness’ to serve,” Evander wrote in her recommendation.

“At its core, this case is about greed, Any large pot of money can create temptation, just as any aggregate settlement can trip up unwary lawyers,”

The Supreme Cout has final say on the qualifications of judges and could remove Watson from the bench.

Key page of the recommendation (click to enlarge):



9 Responses to “JQC: Kick Judge Off Bench For Ethics Violations”

  1. What is the point says:

    Whether or not we agree with electing judges, that is what we have in Florida.

    The issues raised in this JQC proceeding were known to the Florida Bar and were of public record prior to Ms. Watson being elected to the bench. Her opponents either chose to ignore it (stupid choice) or they did bring it up and the voters didn’t care.

    This decision is more about Ms. Watson being defiant and aggressively defending herself than the underlying. Sorry that the JQC didn’t like having themselves cast into the spotlight, but maybe its time that the shadow court come out into the light.

    As for the underlying issues, if this ruling is ratified by the Florida Supreme Court, I think it will have a chilling effect on lawyers deciding to run for the bench or to seek appointment to the bench if they have ANY indiscretions or issues in their private or professional lives.

    Because apparently everything you did BEFORE you ran for the bench or were appointed to the bench is now fair game for the JQC to try to remove you.

    So the JQC message to the public is — “You foolish voters. You don’t get to decide what is or isn’t important in a candidate’s past when you are casting your vote. Your vote is meaningless and we get to just undo your elective process if we don’t like the candidate you choose.”

    Proud day to be a Florida voter.


    Are you arguing that the JQC shouldn’t be allowed to remove any elected judge because they were vetted by the public?

    JQC has jurisdiction over any complaint made about a judge. Here is the relative sentence in the Florida Constitution: “The commission shall have jurisdiction over justices and judges regarding allegations that misconduct occurred before or during service as a justice or judge if a complaint is made no later than one year following service as a justice or judge.”

    As far as voters, I agree they had the opportunity to find out this damaging information. Without asking them, we have no way to know if they actually knew about the seriousness of these allegations before voting for Watson. Regardless, the Constitution specifically says the JQC has jurisdiction on this matter and can recommend removing her from office.

  2. thomas lubart says:

    how nice to see the LaMotte case referenced …

  3. Stern Warning says:

    This case should be a cautionary tale and further proof that Judy Stern is useless.

    Out of all of this, I actually feel bad for Julio Gonzalez.

    As Buddy said, all of the damning information about Watson was out there prior to the election. Stern as Julio’s consultant should have had the media all over this transgression. Especially when the FL Bar found probable cause a month before the November election. Did the voters hear anything? No. Julio raised and spent 80k there is no reason Stern couldn’t get the word out? There were ECO’s that were supporting Julio, they couldn’t get the word out?

    Back in the day when Stern was top of her game she would have been all over this. Looks like time and karma have caught up to her.

  4. Dan Lewis says:

    There are two intertwined threads of this case. The first is the alleged violation of bar rules with its associated facts, the second is the JQC process arriving at its recommendations.

    Alleged Violations
    The alleged violations of bar rules involve a legal service contract with clients which provide for 100% client damage recovery, including interest without any set off for attorney’s fees or costs – and provide for the attorney’s ability to collect their fees & costs from court awards or defendant negotiated settlement of attorney’s fees only. Although all the affected clients received 100% of their claimed damages plus interest, the Bar and JQC has taken the position that these client contracts were unethical. Judge Watson disputes this and was prevented from admitting evidence of court attorney’s fees awards, or the work that was performed on each client’s case by the JQC panel. The Bar/JQC position was that the client agreements were a form of contingency agreement which they objectively were not.

    The second alleged violation of bar rules involved disclosure to clients. Here the JQC suggests that beyond the 100% of damages plus interest the clients were entitled to contractually, they also were entitled to full disclosure of the attorney’s fees and costs not only in their own case, but in all the related cases. Not only were the clients not entitled to this information contractually or ethically because the clients had had no standing either financially or otherwise in the attorney’s fees or costs especially after they received full compensation – but, it would have been ethically improper to share information about another client. The JQC in reaching to find a basis for its predetermined recommendation attempted to make individual but similar cases in a broad class action – which it was not.

    The third alleged violation of bar rules involved Judge Watson promise to defend a settlement agreement. The JQC alleged hypothetically that if required to defend the settlement, then Judge Watson would somehow breach a fiduciary relationship with her clients. Not only has this not happened, but logically the assertion is absurd because, again – the Clients did not claim nor were entitled to more than 100% of their damages plus interest which is what they received.
    Interestingly, none of these three violations were explicit in either the JQC notice of investigation, nor in the JQC notice of formal charges and did not become apparent until the JQC closing argument at the hearing. Had Judge Watson been put on notice that these were the actual charges, she could and would have had a clear defense for each.

    JQC Process
    Anyone who has followed this case knows that Judge Watson has objected to the JQC process which is more like a “star” chamber then a deliberative process among professionals. She has objected to the manner in which accused Judges are treated and how they are prevented from mounting a defense, receiving due process, equal treatment, and how JQC alleged misconduct can and in this case did occur without consequence or oversight.

    For a particular discussion of these process matters, I would refer you to Judge Watson’s DEC action filed with the Florida Supreme Court previous to the JQC’s published recommendations. Although a new Florida Supreme Court action, this case was docketed at the JQC case area – it can be found today at http://www.floridasupremecourt.org/pub_info/summaries/briefs/13/13-1333/Filed_04-11-2014_Petition_1.pdf

    I would encourage every judge and attorney to read this filed case.

    The disciplinary process for attorneys and judges through the BAR and JQC is completely dysfunctional, and horribly flawed. Its duel speeds of railroad or whitewash must be addressed and stopped.

    It is not an exaggeration to suggest that the Watson case will have a significant impact on the professionals in our judicial system. How the supreme court of Florida acts on the serious issue before it today will determine the character of our future Florida courts.

    “The Only Thing Necessary for the Triumph of Evil is that Good Men Do Nothing”. Judge Watson is standing up for the Judiciary while others duck and hide. An independent judiciary is our best defense against tyranny.

  5. Jesus, Dan says:

    Dan, clearly you have a stake in this somehow… And last time I looked you weren’t an attorney. Just saying….

  6. The Guess Who says:

    OK, let’s listen to Dan Lewis, Watson’s political consultant, over the JQC. Fact is, Watson pushed her Bar Grievance off as long as possible and hoped getting elected Judge was her escape route. Wrong.

    And Stern Warning raises a very valid point. How did Gonzalez’s handlers miss this? There was even an appellate opinion on the matter. Watson came across as a terrible candidate. I still don’t understand fully how she won. However, if this information as properly disseminated prior to the election, Gonzalez would have won.

    What a joke all around.

  7. Party Judge at RRA says:

    ex appointed judge Julio Gonzalez was employed at RRA before the implosion, never handled any litigation at RRA just partied like a rock star with the boss Scott Rothstein. People seen through Julio’s empty suit that is why he was soundly rejected by the voters, are his collaborators seeking revenge? Wanted to vomit every time I heard the story about him being the interpreter for his grandfather in court for littering.

  8. maybe or maybe not says:

    Maybe Julio wins, maybe not. But if your paying thousands of dollars to Stern she damn well better use her media contacts to get Watson’s problems to the editorial board at the newspapers and other media outlets. Stern did none of this and ripped him off. The facts were bad enough to have Watson taken off the bench, they certainly could have meant the small margin Watson won the election by.

    Judy gets paid either way so what does she care, in this case not much.

    Sorry Julio.

  9. Lewis Doesn't Get It says:

    Dan Lewis forgot to include here that he was the high-paid campaign manager for Laura Watson, and that he was the reason for many of her ethical woes right now. Dan kinda forgets to mention important facts when they don’t back up his position. Funny how that works.


    Dan Lewis was paid to get Laura Watson elected. He did his job. You can’t blame him for what she is alleged to have done.