- Daphne Duret Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a month-long suspension for a St. Lucie County judge who refused to step down from the cases of a lawyer and former political rival he’d previously jailed twice for contempt.
The decision against St. Lucie County Judge Phil Yacucci comes nearly four months after the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commision recommended the 30-day punishment because of his decision to stop recusing himself from cases involving attorney Stephen Smith.
Smith unsuccessfully challenged Yacucci’s bid for re-election in a contentious campaign three years ago. But the two had a tumultuous history even before then, with Yacucci once jailing Smith for five days after finding him in contempt of court for misconduct.
After the election, Yacucci recused himself from cases involving Smith, but began denying such Smith’s requests to keep him off his cases in September 2016, according to the formal notice of charges.
In written responses, Yacucci denied violating judicial canons, urging that his actions were part of “more important larger issues” involving Smith and his employer, the Ticket Clinic, according to a court document.
The high court vehemently disagreed. In fact, the only two judges who disagreed with the majority opinion, Justices Peggy Quince and Barbara Pariente, did so only to express that they wanted to make Yacucci’s punishment even harsher — a suspension of at least 90 days.
“Most assuredly, if an attorney undertook the type of cumulative actions as occurred here, this Court would have imposed a suspension longer than thirty days,” Quince wrote. “Just as we expect attorneys to treat judges with respect, judges have an obligation to treat attorneys with respect.”