Eighteen months after facing formal charges of misconduct and three months after being guilty on four of them, Circuit Judge Scott DuPont‘s case was turned over to the Florida Supreme Court on Tuesday. The court is expected to render a decision on DuPont’s fate in the next several weeks.
There will be no oral arguments before the court: the justices will hand down their decision in the form of an opinion on a future Thursday, as part of their weekly release of opinions. At that time, DuPont and his lawyers will be informed of the ruling.
The Judicial Qualifications Commission, the independent investigative arm of the state’s judicial system, has twice recommended in very strong language that DuPont be removed from the bench, calling him unfit to be a judge, contemptuous of the law, heavy-handed and untruthful, among other findings.
DuPont was elected to the bench in 2010 and has been a family-court judge since, in recent years dividing his time between Putnam and Flagler counties. He’s never had a turn on the felony bench because former Seventh Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Terence Perkins feared placing him there because of DuPont’s temperament: Perkins worried that DuPont would sentence too many people to prison. The Seventh Circuit is made up of Flagler, Volusia, Putnam and St. Johns counties.
The first set of charges were filed against DuPont in November 2016, citing unethical behavior on the campaign trail, including allegations–later sustained by the commission–that he disseminated injurious claims about his opponent with reckless disregard for the truth, and against the advice of people within his campaign circle and fellow judges. The second set of charges expanded the accusations to include bullying behavior by DuPont in the courtroom, toward individuals appearing before him.
The commission’s conclusions are based on an investigation, a trial-like hearing involving dozens of witnesses–many testifying in support of DuPont–and what has amounted to a written duel of recommendations by the commission and counter-arguments by DuPont over the past few months.
DuPont got the last shot in the duel on April 30, accusing the commission of “several inaccuracies and/or impermissible conclusions that must be addressed,” and of issuing a reply to one of his own “for no legitimate reason other than to fan the flame of prejudice.” He was reacting to an April rejoinder by the commission to DuPont’s earlier response to the recommendation that he be removed.
“The 2016 Judicial Campaign is the main focus of the inquiry,” DuPont’s attorneys, Rutledge Liles and Pamela Klavon, wrote in the final pleading filed last week. “Judge Dupont admitted his carelessness and has in no fashion attempted to defend what occurred as acceptable conduct. As previously stated, Judge Dupont acted in good faith, with the honest belief that the information supplied by William Tavernier, who was retained by Maureen France, his campaign manager, was accurate. Notwithstanding this belief, he is not advancing this as either an excuse or reason for his conduct in connection with the election, recognizing that the ultimate responsibility for the accuracy of the information rested with him.”
They go on to state that DuPont never “knowingly misrepresented” facts about his opponent, terms that put a different interpretation on what the commission saw as “reckless disregard” for the truth: while he was never accused of knowingly fabricating information about his opponent, he was found to have used unreliable information shoddily, off a website that databases wide swaths of unverified information and claims, among other sources, without himself verifying it.
DuPont’s lawyers then make a remarkable claim: “There is a vast difference between publishing information knowing it to be false, and carelessly or recklessly publishing information under a mistaken belief of its truthfulness,” they write. “Careless or reckless publication amounts to negligence and conduct of a rash or unwise nature. It is distinguishable from an evil motive or intent.” The statement essentially rationalizes the recklessness and carelessness of a judge by making it seem less grave in comparison to worse offenses using logic that would be inadmissible in court: the argument keeps the focus on DuPont not having “evil motive,” as if his recklessness had no consequence on the people whose reputation or self-respect it violated.
One such incident was part of the charges. It involved a man whose money DuPont ordered a bailiff to seize during a family court hearing, an act the commission found “outrageous.” DuPont’s pleading, citing other judges who spoke on his behalf, said the practice was familiar to other judges, one of whom is quoted as having seized “watches, money, keys,” and doing so perhaps twice a year. Another judge is quoted as saying that “there are judges all over the circuit that employ techniques like that, and it’s all about nuance.” DuPont’s lawyers than conclude that the charge against him for doing likewise amounts to “selective prosecution.”
The document addresses the findings against him point by point, going as far as second-guessing of the chief judge’s concerns in language that veers toward the self-laudatory: “Is it reasonable for a judge in Volusia County, where Judge Perkins sits, and who was not, himself, sitting in judgment with first-hand knowledge of the facts, to criticize Judge Dupont for doing what he believed to be his job, as well as dispute those who wrote letters attesting to his character and fitness, and who would, no doubt, applaud his efforts to clean up Putnam County and restore some semblance of order?”
The response asks the court to reject the findings of the Judicial Qualifications Commission, and that since the judge has accepted responsibility, has an “exemplary” record as a jurist and a “stellar background,” he should not be removed.
“Judge Dupont is a good person and deserves a second chance. We all make mistakes,” the response ends.
Since the February recommendation by the commission DuPont has been barred from courthouses in the circuit except for personal business, by order of Chief Judge Raul Zambrano.
Click to access 2016-2103_response_50608_reply20to20reply.pdf
As a Judge the standard is way too high for a fallen one to be given a second chance. Bye bye
DuPont fits right in here in the 7th Judicial Circuit and in Flagler County. From my understanding it didn’t matter what the man did, it was complained about. Mean while, Dennis Craig remains on the bench and he supported DuPont and condoned his actions…..how can one be right and one be wrong? If DuPont is removed then Craig needs to go with him. There is no way a judge can sit on the bench and have a double standard. I am disappointed that Chief Judge Zambrano knows this and has taken no action against Craig. We don’t need anymore hypocrite judges in this circuit. Enough is enough!
Over zealous Zambrano….it’s not over till it’s over. Zambrano needs to now open his eyes and clean up what’s been left behind. Rotating judges is not cleaning it up. 7th circuit disfunction from the top to the bottom.
I literally flew through the article just to say “apology not accepted”
Marty Barrett says
Dupont testified that Putnam County “was voted the most violent county in the State of Florida”. Huh? What is he even talking about? Do Floridians vote on which county is the most violent? This (soon to be ex) judge is an absolute disgrace. An ounce of contrition might have helped him in this process but his ignorance is exceeded only by his arrogance and intransigence. It’s time for the Supreme Court to close the door on this guy. He wants a second chance? I think they should afford him the same amount of chances (1) that he afforded litigants who had the misfortune to appear before him. To this day, he believes he did nothing wrong, sad. Bailiff Goodman is afraid of his own shadow, so it’s no surprise that he soft peddled his account of the courtroom shakedown by Dupont. As an (albeit unwitting) accessory to robbery, obviously he wouldn’t want to describe the incident accurately. And those that came forward as character witnesses know the same things about Dupont as everyone else (just make sure you ask them behind closed doors), however they apparently subordinate honesty to fealty to a friend and colleague. Supreme Court: Do your job…
Can’t claim to know a lot about this situation, but this comment seems weird to me: “Perkins worried that DuPont would sentence too many people to prison.”
This is from the Judicial Qualification Commission’s Recommendation, issued in February: “Judge Terrence Perkins served as the Chief Judge of the Seventh Judicial Circuit from June 2013 through June 2017, and was called as a prosecution witness. Judge Perkins testified that the number of complaints he received about Judge DuPont was “not even close” to those received complaining about otherjudges; most related to “heavy handedness.” (T.242, 244, 253). During his four year tenure, Chief Judge Perkins refused to assign Judge DuPont to a felony criminal division, fearing such heavy-handedness might lead to excessive or inappropriate incarcerations. (T.239). He transferred Judge DuPont to the civil division to take him “out of the firing line” and place him in a position where “he wasn’t putting people in jail all the time.” (T.242, 244)”
You can read the excerpt in context here.
It doesn’t get any better than this. These Judges are not any different than the rest of us. Just because they are paid over $150,000 dollars a year doesn’t mean they can’t and don’t use poor judgment at times—they are human and no different than the rest of us. This is one that the hammer came down on but what about those that go on for year and years doing things that they shouldn’t and they get away with it with nothing ever being said or done about it? There are some on the bench that are so arrogant and rude who don’t give a defendant a chance to speak or prove their side, and yes, one in particular is right here in Flagler County! The longer they stay on the bench the more arrogant they become. Judges should have term limits! It’s a big boys club when you are at attorney/judge….they all stick together and if you sink money into their game they will let you play. If not, you are screwed.
MR G says
This is one that was complained about….what about those who are not because Joe Citizen doesn’t know how to action against a judge like DuPonts opponent did. Now tell me how soooo many FCSO employees have been reported doing wrong yet a cops testimony is upheld in court! It’s not what you know, it’s all about who you know. Florida didn’t get the reputation of being one of the most corrupt states in the country for no reason. And we have a Governor who closes his eye to the corruption and wants us to elect him for a higher office. HAHAHA. Not me, I wouldn’t vote for Scott for dog catcher. DuPont doesn’t have a chance. They all rubber stamp.