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Supreme Court suspends, reprimands 13th circuit judge.

A Hillsborough County circuit judge who shook her finger and angrily yelled at a fellow judge presiding over a bitter child custody case of a friend was ordered to stand before the Florida Supreme Court to receive a public reprimand December 13 (after this News went to press) and be suspended from office without pay for one month.

The Supreme Court's per curiam ruling in the Judicial Qualifications Commission case against 13th Circuit Judge Cynthia A. Holloway (Case No. SC00-2226) nixes Holloway's plant to gracefully exit the bench in her announced retirement in January, making her last day as a judge December 10. She was also ordered to pay the costs of the proceedings.

Two of the charges involve a single outburst that lasted no more than minutes on March 3, 2000, in the hearing room of Judge Ralph C. Stoddard. What the verbal blast lacked in duration, it made up for in intensity, and the court deemed Holloway's actions-finger-shaking, a crude remark to the presiding judge, and angry demands on how the judge scheduled the case--serious ethical violations.

"From the beginning, Judge Holloway has admitted that this contact was absolutely improper. Her explanation is that she was upset and emotionally involved in the case which concerned the sister of her best friend, and a child she had grown close to," the opinion stated. "Although such motivation is understandable, her actions were entirely improper and certainly cannot be tolerated by a sitting circuit judge."

While counsel for the JQC suggested removal from office was the appropriate sanction, the high court sided with a hearing panel that concluded the harshest punishment was not warranted in Judge Holloway's case. On the other hand, a mere reprimand without financial penalty, as Judge Holloway had asked, would be too lenient, the court agreed.

The court noted that Judge Holloway has accepted responsibility for her actions in chastising a presiding judge in her friend's case, and apologized to that judge. Also, "testimony of numerous character witnesses that, other than in the instances which are the subject of these charges, [Judge Holloway] has demonstrated that she is capable of performing ably in judicial service."

However, the court's opinion cited "multiple instances of misconduct" and "the extremely serious nature of these charges" in violating Canons 1, 2, 3, and 5 of the Code of Judicial Conduct.

The charges for which Judge Holloway was found guilty stemmed from an acrimonious custody fight over a 4-year-old child involving allegations of sexual abuse by the child's father and removing the child from the home. Judge Holloway, a witness under subpoena in the case, became personally involved in how the case was being conducted because the child's mother is the sister of Holloway's best friend.

Judge Holloway was reprimanded for the following unethical actions:

* Judge Holloway shook her finger and criticized Judge Stoddard, the presiding judge in the custody case, in a "loud, angry, and temperamental manner" for leaving the child too long in the custody of a third party. In the presence of others, Judge Holloway let her feelings be known that the father in the custody battle should not get the child and demanded that Judge Stoddard hold an early hearing. The ex parte contact contributed to Judge Stoddard's recusal in the case.

"Despite admission of guilt to the charge, substantial evidence was presented by the prosecution and responded to by the defense concerning the details of the contact with Judge Stoddard. This evidence was in sharp conflict," the panel found.

* Judge Holloway "demeaned the judicial office by making a crude remark to Judge Stoddard, suggesting the father's lawyer must have obscene pictures of the judge with a dog" because the father's lawyer had such a hold on the judge.

"Judge Holloway admitted her conduct was an ethical breach and was outrageous. She agreed she was overly emotional and had made a terrible mistake," the opinion said.

Judge Stoddard accepted Judge Holloway's apology, "believing it to be genuine," according to the findings. Judge Stoddard testified that he was "shocked, dismayed, and hurt, but that in his opinion Judge Holloway was a good judge, exercising 'deference and respect' and that he 'had the highest opinion of her abilities as a judge,"' according to the court record.

* Judge Holloway was found guilty of giving false or misleading testimony when she said under oath that she had not called a detective on the case, in a deposition taken by the father of the child, acting pro se. Judge Holloway was represented by counsel, her husband Todd Alley. When Judge Holloway completed an "errata sheet" to her deposition, she admitted she did have a brief telephone conversation with the detective after all. She said she did not want to discuss the facts of the investigation, but only hoped it would be handled in a timely fashion. The panel noted "this single phone call to the detective would not warrant discipline if it were not a part of the entire unfortunate series of events," and the panel found insufficient evidence in the record to support the charge that she improperly called the detective.

However, despite purported corrections, Judge Holloway was found guilty as charged "to the extent that the errata sheet was misleading, vague, incomplete, inaccurate, and intended to keep secret inappropriate contact with Judge Stoddard."

According to the panel, "Judge Holloway's testimony and her deposition in a later errata sheet became the central most important contested matters in the case."

* In a separate matter, Judge Holloway asked another judge for a favor for her brother, requesting that his uncontested divorce hearing be moved ahead on the docket so he could catch an airplane. The request was made in the reception areas of Judge Katherine Essrig's chambers, where others could hear.

"Judge Holloway's contention that she could not have committed an ethical violation because Judge Essrig would freely grant such scheduling favors ignores that this was an ex parte communication on behalf of a party in a pending case," the court found. "Judge Holloway's conduct in this regard was in violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct."
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Author:Pudlow, Jan
Publication:Florida Bar News
Date:Dec 15, 2002
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