BROWARD COUNTY, Fla — An investigative panel has asked the Florida Supreme Court to suspend a Broward County circuit judge who allegedly put her hands around the neck of an employee and shook him.
The Judicial Qualifications Commission, which oversees investigations of judges, on Thursday asked the court to suspend Judge Vegina Hawkins without pay until the probe is complete and justices have made a final decision on possible sanctions.
According to documents filed with the court, Hawkins “initiated a physical confrontation with a court employee during which she grabbed the employee by the neck and shook him.”
The “genesis” of the June 11 incident, which was captured on a security camera, “appears to be Judge Hawkins’ displeasure with the fact that papers for her 2 p.m. docket were not yet on her desk ready for her review,” Alexander Williams, general counsel of the Judicial Qualifications Commission, wrote in a recommendation for suspension.
According to the recommendation, Hawkins --- who’s been on the bench for six months --- sought out the employee, who was in another judge’s courtroom, and motioned him to come into the hallway, where the incident took place.
Hawkins initially apologized to the commission but maintained that she “invaded his personal space” without touching the employee, Williams wrote.
During a hearing last week with the investigative panel, Hawkins maintained that she was “cool” and “wasn’t angry at all” with the employee, according to court records. But under questioning from the panel, “Judge Hawkins finally acknowledged that she ‘touched’ and ‘shook’ the employee,” Williams wrote in the seven-page recommendation.
In a response to the recommendation, Hawkins’ lawyer David Bogenschutz, wrote that the judge admitted wrongdoing.
“Every move I made was wrong. It was improper. No judge should ever to (sic) anything like that. I take full responsibility for it,” Bogenschutz wrote, quoting Hawkins.
Hawkins did not do anything “that would warrant or merit the draconian response to this several seconds-long incident with a suspension without pay,” her lawyer argued.
But Hawkins’ actions “demonstrate a present unfitness to serve,” the investigative panel found.
“Within the judicial branch, as in civilian life, it is never appropriate for a person in a supervisory position to put their hands around the neck of an employee or subordinate and shake them. It is all the more inappropriate, and potentially criminal, when such conduct is motivated by anger, or to emphasize displeasure,” Williams wrote.
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