Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent Report of Referee which recommends that former Lee County Judge John Lakin, who was alleged to have improperly accepted tickets to Tampa Bay Rays baseball games, be suspended from practice for 90 days and be placed on probation for one year. The case is The Florida Bar v. John Francis Lakin, SC17-542. The June 25, 2018 Report of the Referee is here: https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/4564632-Referee-Report-Lakin.html
The Judicial Qualification Commission charged the judge with misconduct in 2016 alleging, inter alia, that he had requested and received Tampa Bay Rays tickets from a law firm in 2015 while presiding over a pending case in which the law firm represented one of the parties. A jury ruled in favor of opposing party; however, the judge subsequently reversed that verdict in favor of the law firm’s client. Five of the tickets that the judge received were given to him the day before he reversed the jury verdict. The judge denied that the receipt of the tickets influenced his actions and later retired from the bench and went into private practice.
The Florida Bar filed a Complaint in March 2017 alleging that the lawyer violated Bar Rules related to dishonesty, deceitfulness, misrepresentation and/or fraud. The referee assigned to hear the Bar matter recommended that the former judge’s law license be suspended for 90 days, and that he be placed on supervised probation one year, complete the Bar’s practice and professionalism enhancement program, “speak to new judges” about the circumstances, and pay the Bar’s costs of $5,244.00.
Under the Florida Bar rules, the referee’s report will now be reviewed by the Florida Supreme Court, which will render a final disciplinary opinion. The judge and The Florida Bar can file a petition with the Court to review the findings and file briefs.
Bottom line: This former judge accepted tickets from lawyers who were representing a party before him on a pending case and, soon after receiving the tickets, made a ruling which favored that law firm’s clients. Even if the tickets did not influence the judge’s decision, the circumstances would certainly seem to create an appearance of impropriety and an arguable violation of the Judicial Canons. The referee has now recommended that the judge be found guilty of Florida Bar Rule violations and suspended from practicing law for 90 days. The Florida Supreme Court will now decide whether the referee’s findings will be upheld.
Be careful out there.
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Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire
Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.
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Clearwater, Florida 33761
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