Broward County Circuit Judge Vegina Hawkins was suspended after a video captured her placing her hands around a court employee's neck. Judge Hawkins is a former prosecutor so she should have known better than to put her hands on someone. She was appointed by former Gov. Rick Scott in November 2018.
The Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission has recommended immediate suspension of Judge Hawkins, NBC Miami reports.
On June 11 Judge Hawkins was seen on a security camera grabbing a court employee by the neck at the Broward County Court after she was told her afternoon docket was not ready.
After being informed that the papers would be provided to her shortly, Judge Hawkins sought out the employee who was working in another judge's courtroom. Entering the courtroom through a secure hallway, Judge Hawkins motioned for the employee to come outside into the hallway. And as the employee walked through the doorway, Judge Hawkins placed her hands around his neck and shook him back and forth.
At the July 12, 2019 hearing, the Investigative Panel of the Commission took testimony from the judge, reviewed affidavits and other evidence.
Judge Hawkins told the commission in her self report she never touched the employee and that the two were fairly friendly, describing her actions as engaging in jest.
But the commission didn't believe her and determined that probable cause exists to believe that Judge Hawkins violated the Code of Judicial Conduct. The panel also determined that the commission should recommend Judge Hawkins be immediately suspended without compensation, pending final disposition of this matter.
The employee did not describe the judge's demeanor that morning as friendly or joking, but extremely upset.
Eventually, Judge Hawkins admitted to the panel she touched and shook the employee. But when panel members asked her why she failed to say that in the self-report, the judge said that when she watched the video prior to writing the self-report, it was grainy, she was crying, and she didn't remember putting her hands on the person.
The panel finding says:
"Within the judicial branch, as in civilian life, it is never appropriate for a person in a supervisory position to put their hands around the neck of an employee or subordinate and shake them. It is all the more inappropriate, and potentially criminal, when such conduct is motivated by anger or to emphasize displeasure. Judge Hawkins instigated a physical confrontation with a court employee. You sought out the confrontation by interrupting the employee's work in another courtroom, and summoning him into a secure hallway. As he walked through the door, Judge Hawkins placed her hands around the neck of the employee and shook him."
The Florida Supreme Court suspended Judge Hawkins without pay on July 19. In the next few months The Florida Supreme Court will make a decision regarding her behavior.
Judges get in trouble often: