A Jacksonville judge accused of using epithets to refer to a female staff attorney and saying that blacks should “go back to Africa” could face sanctions after an investigation by a panel that polices judicial conduct.
A panel of the state Judicial Qualifications Commission found probable cause to pursue charges against Circuit Judge Mark Hulsey III for being “discourteous and condescending to staff,” of having “expressed unnecessary criticism” of staff attorneys and using “language inappropriate for your judicial office.”
The notice of formal charges was filed Tuesday with the Florida Supreme Court, which has the ultimate authority over judges. Hulsey, who faces a re-election challenge this year, quickly denied the allegations. The commission has until October to file a recommendation for sanctions.
In the notice of charges, an investigative panel of the commission accused Hulsey of referring to a female staff lawyer as a “bitch” and a “c—,” after she complained to the chief judge that Hulsey was overusing staff attorneys. The panel also accused the judge of demeaning female staff lawyers by likening them to “cheerleaders who talk during the national anthem.”
Hulsey in 2011 “offhandedly observed” to an aide that African Americans “should go get back on a ship and go back to Africa,” according to the notice of charges.
In a statement issued by his campaign, Hulsey disputed the accusations.
“These false allegations have been a poorly kept secret hanging over me like a cloud for months,” Hulsey said in the release. “I am pleased the JQC has concluded its initial investigation, and that I will now have an opportunity to respond to them in a public forum.”
Hulsey, a military veteran who has been practicing law for three decades, also said he has “demonstrated his commitment to the principles of equal justice for all” since joining the bench in 2011. Hulsey faces challenger Gerald Wilkerson in this year’s campaign.
Mark Mahon, the chief judge for the 4th Judicial Circuit, which includes Duval, Clay and Nassau counties, called the allegations “troubling” and transferred Hulsey from the criminal section to the probate section after the notice of charges was filed.
“These allegations are very serious, and if true, very troubling,” Mahon said in a statement.
The reassignment was not intended “to pass judgment on the truth of these charges but to continue the orderly administration of justice,” Mahon said.
In addition to the allegations regarding comments about staff lawyers and African-Americans, the investigative panel also accused Hulsey of exploiting his judicial assistant by requiring her to write personal checks and make personal phone calls on his behalf, and of failing to “respond to post-conviction matters promptly and efficiently,” causing the Attorney General’s Office to “unnecessarily seek extensions.”
After the judicial panel opened the investigation, the judge told his assistant to “tell the truth” but also instructed her to say that she did not believe Hulsey would make derogatory remarks about women or blacks, according to the notice of charges.
“Your conduct represents an interference with the JQC’s inquiry process,” Alexander John Williams, assistant general counsel for the commission, wrote to Hulsey in the notice.
The panel also accused Hulsey of “indifference to your judicial duties” by relying on staff attorneys to “unnecessarily prepare word-for-word ‘scripts’ of even routine and mundane judicial acts.”
Hulsey is the fourth Florida judge to undergo a formal investigation this year.
A News Service of Florida investigation two years ago found the state Supreme Court had begun taking a much harsher view of judges’ inappropriate behavior. The Supreme Court has increasingly rejected recommendations from the Judicial Qualifications Commission and called for more punitive measures instead.
Of the 78 cases involving judges over the past 16 years, when the Supreme Court first began posting the documents online, seven judges have been removed from office, while 14 resigned before their punishments were meted out and just one successfully defended himself against the charges.
–Dara Kam, News Service of Florida