In a sharp reversal from his original response to an inquiry about his allegedly unethical conduct during the last election, Flagler County Circuit Judge Scott DuPont now says he takes “full responsibility for my actions” and says he had not initially “fully understand the inappropriateness of my behavior.”
DuPont faces five charges of unethical behavior during his campaign for re-election against attorney Malcolm Anthony. The charges include allegations that DuPont spread lies about Anthony by posting on DuPont’s campaign website unsubstantiated accusations against Anthony. DuPont, among other allegations, implied Anthony had been jailed, that Antony’s wife and daughter had been arrested numerous times, and that he’d cheated in a straw poll. DuPont’s judicial philosophy is also being scrutinized, as he claimed publicly that he would refuse to find any statute unconstitutional because he considers that judicial overreach, even though it is part of the duty of every judge to apply the law—and declare a statute unconstitutional if such a case presents itself.
The notice of formal charges were filed by the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission, the investigative arm of the Florida judicial system, in late November. DuPont’s two-page response just before Christmas reveal that in his initial written response and appearance before the commission’s investigative panel, he had dug in his heels, potentially complicating his case.
DuPont, who made a mark as an aggressive campaigner when he first ran six years ago, now says that he “may have given the appearance that I did not fully understand the inappropriateness of my behavior,” and that he did so “only because at that time I wholeheartedly believed that the information I posted about my opponent was one hundred percent accurate. It was not until my appearance before the investigative panel that I fully appreciated that it was not, and that I had been careless. I regret the tone of my response to the charges and apologize for the impression it may have left.”
He continued: “I have had time to reflect on my actions, and think about my behavior, and in doing so I fully understand I was wrong. I should have conducted my own independent research and analysis of what was on my web site to guarantee that it was accurate in all respects. In this regard I fell short.”
It is an odd line of defense for a judge who, in criminal court, would see similar defenses proffered by defendants only after they realize they have been caught—in other words, that his conduct was in earnest until he was told it was not. But as judges themselves frequently tell defendants, ignorance of the law is no defense. In DuPont’s case, the same principle would apply to breaking the judicial code, which lawyers and judges are assumed to know. Judges are also required to complete the Florida Judicial College program.
In his response, DuPont acknowledged that he must set a better example as a sitting judge and “exercise restraint,” while being fully responsible for conducting his own research.
He also addressed the issue of allegedly refusing to declare any statute unconstitutional by saying that his response “was given in the wrong context, and as such, it was inappropriate.” But the judge’s answer left unclear whether he meant that his original comments were taken out of context—and if so, he did not provide the fuller context—or whether his response to the judicial commission had been “given in the wrong context.” He said he full understands “my responsibilities in following the Constitution, and that the sanctity of the Constitution must always be protected.” But again, the answer did not shed more clarifying light on DuPont’s philosophy.
He then repeats expressions of apology and remorse. “I have learned a great lesson from this and have grown accordingly,” he wrote, concluding with the pledge that “This behavior will never happen again.”
DuPont sits on the civil bench in Flagler as well as in Putnam. Both counties, along with Volusia and St. Johns, are part of the Seventh Judicial Circuit. DuPont continues to hear cases as the judicial commission inquiry continues.
If the case against DuPont is sustained, he faces a range of potential penalties, including a public reprimand by the Florida Supreme Court or the loss of his judgeship.
DuPont is represented by Rutledge Liles. The commission’s general counsel is Michael Schneider, who’s been with the judicial commission since 2006 and spent 16 years as an assistant state attorney in the Panhandle’s Second Judicial Circuit, which includes Tallahassee and Leon County.
Next in the case, which may take months to conclude, is a status conference on Jan. 11, when the two sides provide updates on how long they’ll need for pretrial discovery, on witnesses and exhibits to be introduced, and so on.
Judge Scott DuPont’s Answer to Allegations of Unethical Conduct (2017)