District Court Judge William Zloch is considering suspending a Fort Lauderdale employment attorney from practicing in South Florida federal courts for criticizing him in an interview with the Daily Business Review. Fort Lauderdale lawyer Loring Spolter said the former chief judge allows his religious and conservative views to color his decisions. He also commissioned a statistical analysis that Spolter said showed it was impossible for so many of his cases to be randomly assigned to Zloch, only to be dismissed. Cases are assigned in the Southern District through a somewhat weighted wheel system that takes into account where cases are filed and where the action occurred.
Zloch asked U.S. Magistrate Judge Robin Rosenbaum to review the matter and make recommendations. She issued a 96-page report July 10, finding Spolter’s accusations were specious after taking testimony on case assignments from Steven Larimore, the district’s clerk of court. “Although a lawyer should be lauded for having the courage to take a stand against any truly biased activity on the part of a court, Mr. Spolter’s actions do not fall into that category,” Rosenbaum wrote. “These statements exceed the bounds of properly raising grounds for recusal or disqualification and instead constitute a personal attack on the presiding judge.” Zloch adopted Rosenbaum’s findings and held a hearing Aug. 20 on whether to sanction Spolter for filing the motions in bad faith. Zloch repeatedly invoked the interview with DBR in the hearing, a transcript shows. “I would like to know how the federal judiciary, the Southern District, gets back its good name after that article,” the judge said. Zloch said he is considering suspending Spolter from practicing in South Florida federal courts for five years. He also is considering a fine, court costs and referring Spolter to The Florida Bar for discipline. The judge told Spolter he could mitigate the sanctions if the lawyer bought a full-page, court-approved advertisement in the Review apologizing for his previous position.
Things that struck me about from the article, which is worth reading in its entirety:
- 96 pages? That's a long R&R! Judge Marcus would be proud of his former clerk.
- What happens if the DBR gives Spolter the ad for free?
- Why can't Spolter keep his mouth shut? (From the article: Zloch said Spolter’s statistical expert recanted his position at Rosenbaum’s hearing. The statistician had said it was nearly impossible for Spolter’s cases to randomly end up with Zloch only to be dismissed. That’s when Spolter stood up and said the judge was wrong. “The expert just called me up last week and spoke to me about this case again, and he said to me that he stood by his testimony,” Spolter said. Zloch retorted to Reinhardt, “He apparently still maintains his position.”) Painful. SFLawyers has a funny post about this.
- Is Judge Zloch the right judge to be deciding the sanctions? Or should some other judge do it?
- Should lawyers be permitted to criticize judges without fear of being reprimanded? (More from the DBR: The Spolter case raises the issue of the free speech rights of attorneys who criticize a sitting judge. Last year, The Florida Bar reprimanded Fort Lauderdale attorney Sean Conway for calling Broward Circuit Judge Cheryl Aleman an “evil, unfair witch” in a blog post that appeared around Halloween 2006. Conway maintained his statements were protected opinions but stipulated to the Bar’s disciplinary decision.)