Santino: Removal from office for election infraction unconstitutional


In what is likely Palm Beach County Judge Dana Santino’s last chance to convince the Florida Supreme Court not to remove her from office, she insisted on Tuesday that other judges have been allowed to keep their jobs after committing far more serious infractions.

Removing Santino for blasting her 2016 opponent for representing “murderers, rapists, child molesters and other criminals” would be contrary to 30 years of precedent and also run afoul of the Florida Constitution, her attorney, Jeremy Kroll, wrote in a 21-page brief to the state’s high court.

“This court’s sole function is to determine whether Judge Santino is ‘presently unfit’ and, if the evidence does not demonstrate present unfitness, removal is not a lawful or appropriate sanction pursuant to Article V (of the Florida Constitution)” Kroll wrote. He cited other cases where judges have been fined, not removed from office, for more egregious campaign violations.

Santino admits she was wrong for bolstering her judicial aspirations by attacking the work her opponent, Gregg Lerman, does as a defense attorney. But Kroll argued that Santino, a former guardianship attorney, has worked hard and proven herself to be a good judge since taking office in January. At a hearing before a panel of the Judicial Qualifications Commission in August, Kroll noted that two judges praised Santino’s work ethic.

While acknowledging that she deserves “a severe sanction,” Kroll said the judicial watchdog group’s recommendation that Santino be removed from office is unfair, unfounded and unconstitutional.

It is likely the last legal papers that will be filed with the state’s high court. While justices could ask for oral arguments, they typically discipline judges after reviewing legal documents that have been filed.

In court papers, an attorney for the judicial commission has urged the high court to remove Santino, saying she put winning ahead of judicial canons. She knew her conduct was wrong, but believed she would only be forced to pay a fine, wrote JQC attorney Alexander Williams.

In a dissent in a 2002 disciplinary case where the high court forced a judge to pay $50,000 fine for similar campaign antics, Justice R. Fred Lewis warned his colleagues: “Selecting an enormous fine as discipline only sends the message that ‘anything goes’ in judicial elections if a candidate has the financial ability to pay the monetary consequences.”

Santino’s behavior confirms Lewis’ fears, Williams wrote. Santino, he wrote, illustrates a dangerous “win-at-all-costs-and-pay-the-fine-later” attitude, he said.

Further, he said, Santino’s attacks on Lerman were attacks on bedrock Constitutional principles of innocent until proven guilty and the rights of those accused of crimes to be represented by attorneys. By implying that Lerman would be soft on crime while she would be tough, Santino “also damaged the public’s perception of the fairness and integrity of the judiciary,” Williams wrote.

“The prize for intentionally, and selfishly inflicting such damage on the judiciary cannot be a judicial office,” he wrote.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

Cerabino: Russia’s misinformation show features West Palm Beach star
Cerabino: Russia’s misinformation show features West Palm Beach star

If you’re the person who got paid to portray a jailed Hillary Clinton at a Donald Trump rally in West Palm Beach a few months before the election, please call me. I’d love to hear what you think of things now, 18 months later. You remember? Right? You were at City Place on Aug. 20, 2016, sitting in the back of a pickup truck that was decked...
Trump in Palm Beach: President leaves after a little golf, a lot of tweets and visit with shooting victims 
Trump in Palm Beach: President leaves after a little golf, a lot of tweets and visit with shooting victims 

UPDATE 6:55 p.m.: Air Force One landed at Joint Base Andrews at 6:14 p.m., according to White House pool reporters. The president, first lady and Barron Trump left the plane 9 minutes later. Trump didn’t answer a shouted question about gun control. The family then left  in the presidential motorcade. The motorcade arrived at the White House...
Habitat wants to build homes on Boynton Beach-owned scrub
Habitat wants to build homes on Boynton Beach-owned scrub

Habitat for Humanity of South Palm Beach wants to build 22 single-family affordable houses on land that the city and an elementary school have worked to preserve as scrub . The Palm Beach County School District deeded the land to the city in 2012 in a land-transfer program to build Galaxy Elementary School. The land &mdash...
Pence to visit Kennedy Space Center Tuesday
Pence to visit Kennedy Space Center Tuesday

Vice President Mike Pence will visit NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Tuesday evening for a tour of the launch facilities and leave Wednesday after a meeting with the National Space Council. »RELATED: The latest in Florida political news The Federal Aviation Administration has also issued an alert to pilots of “VIP Movement” near...
Accused of bias, judge quits case challenging Gardens ballot questions
Accused of bias, judge quits case challenging Gardens ballot questions

A judge set to rule on four controversial Palm Beach Gardens ballot questions has stepped aside after a city attorney accused the judge of bias. RELATED: Judge could toss Gardens ballot questions, including term limits Voters will decide the four questions — two of which would relax existing term limits — in the March 13 election, provided...
More Stories