For losing his temper in court and making rude comments, some with sexist overtones, Ninth Circuit Judge Timothy Shea will receive a public reprimand, write letters of apology, and continue his mental health treatment.
That sanction was detailed by the Florida Supreme Court in its March 14 per curium opinion in Case No. SC11-1067, Inquiry Concerning a Judge, No. 10-265, Re: Timothy R. Shea.
The investigative panel of the Judicial Qualifications Commission determined that probable cause did not exist to proceed on six of the 11 allegations in the original notice of formal charges in 2010. Initially, the Supreme Court had planned to impose a 60-day suspension without pay, as well as a public reprimand. After the JQC hired a special counsel to further investigate the charges, the investigative panel and Judge Shea entered into a second stipulation, and the JQC recommended that he not be suspended because of “substantial positive efforts voluntarily taken by Judge Shea to remedy his behavior.”
Judge Shea did not contest the following allegations in the notice of amended formal charges:
* In 2007, Assistant State Attorney Sarah Freeman was sitting in the jury box with two other attorneys, making notes on her pretrial docket, while Judge Shea addressed a matter that was not hers. When Judge Shea saw Freeman shake her head, he got up from his seat, stood behind his chair, and screamed loudly at her for what he perceived as disrespectful conduct.
* In 2007, during an off-the-record sidebar argument by Assistant State Attorney Camelia Coward regarding a plea to the bench, Judge Shea remarked to the opposing attorney: “Do you know what I do when my wife and I disagree? I just let her talk. I find that it is best just to let her talk until she’s finished.” Judge Shea then indicated that, once she is finished, you can do what you want anyway.
* In 2009, Judge Shea sentenced a defendant charged with trafficking in hydromorphone to the minimum mandatory sentence, without the defendant’s attorney present. When the defendant objected, Judge Shea told the defendant’s father that, if he had any questions, he could go upstairs to the courtroom where the defense lawyer was appearing before another judge.
* In State v. Bullock, Judge Shea granted a judgment of acquittal on one of the counts of an information alleging possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. That count had been severed for a separate trial from another count of the information charging the defendant with grand theft of a motor vehicle. At the subsequent trial call in 2010, when Assistant State Attorney Stephen Brown announced his intention to proceed on the remaining count, Judge Shea mistakenly believed the state did not have a good faith basis to proceed on that charge. Judge Shea became visibly angry and reprimanded the prosecutor in open court, saying his duty was to act in an ethical manner and to follow his oath as an attorney, rather than merely follow office policy guidelines of the state attorney’s office. Judge Shea then ordered him into the jury room, where he continued to berate the attorney’s ethics. After realizing his mistake, Judge Shea apologized.
Judge Shea agreed that “these repeated actions constitute conduct unbecoming a judicial officer and lack the dignity appropriate to judicial office, with the effect of bringing the judiciary into disrepute.”
The second stipulation explains that “while Judge Shea apologizes for his misconduct and realizes that ‘he is the only one to blame,’ the investigative panel acknowledged that — based on the trial transcripts — ‘it was patently obvious Judge Shea’s intemperate conduct frequently followed inappropriate or unprofessional conduct from lawyers, some of whom may have been seeking to aggravate Judge Shea and cause him to lose his temper.’”
In mitigation, the second stipulation noted that Judge Shea had “experienced a particularly stressful time in his personal life stemming from a family member’s mental illness and that, since the time of his misconduct, Judge Shea has sought professional treatment and counseling for his temper, sought the advice and counsel of experienced and respected judges in his circuit, and, according to a colleague, improved his courtroom behavior, becoming less emotional and more deliberative on the bench.”
The Supreme Court ruled: “. . .[W]ere it not for the mitigating circumstances surrounding Judge Shea’s misconduct, particularly his self-initiated participation in anger management therapy and his appeals for guidance from more experienced members of the judiciary, this court would more severely sanction Judge Shea. But in view of the smaller number of infractions as clarified by the second stipulation and Judge Shea’s successful and ongoing efforts to manage his temper and foster professionalism, we approve the recommendation of a public reprimand to be administered by this court at a future date.”