Thursday, October 30, 2014

Trust Account Wire Receipts Are Not Privileged

In Sweetapple, Broeker & Varkas, P.L. v. Simmon (3D14-1543), the Third District addressed whether trust account wire receipts showing transfers to Sweetapple, Broeker & Varkas, P.L. (“the Firm”) are protected by the attorney-client privilege. The court described the general facts as follows:
After obtaining two judgments against one of the Firm’s clients, the Judgment Creditor discovered that the client transferred money to the Firm. The Judgment Creditor subpoenaed the Firm requesting documents reflecting any payment of sums into and out of the Firm’s trust account for the benefit of its client.  
The trial court held an in camera inspection and ordered the law firm to produce the records. The Third District agreed and concluded that "because this financial information is not privileged in the hands of the client, it is not privileged in the hands of the attorney." Therefore, the judgment creditor prevailed. 

On a procedural note, the court dismissed the petition as opposed to denying it, stating:
Because the records are not privileged, the Firm has failed to demonstrate that production of the documents would constitute irreparable harm. We therefore dismiss the petition for lack of jurisdiction. Bd. of Trs. of Internal ImprovementTrust Fund v. Am. Educ. Enters., LLC, 99 So. 3d 450, 454-55 (Fla. 2012) (“A finding that the petitioning party has suffered an irreparable harm that cannot be remedied on direct appeal is a condition precedent to invoking a district court’s certiorari jurisdiction.”) (citation and internal quotations omitted). 
Judge Logue wrote the opinion and was joined by Chief Judge Shepherd and Judge Emas. 

Florida Supreme Court Removes County Court Judge From Bench

Today in Inquiry Concerning a Judge, No. 11-550 RE: Judith W. Hawkins (No. SC12-2495), the Florida Supreme Court considered the recommendations of the Judicial Qualifications Commission with regard to "alleged violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct, Canons 1, 2A, 2B, 3A, 3B(2), 3B(4), 3B(7), 3B(8), 3C(1), 4D(1), and 5D(1), and violation of article V, section 13, of the Florida Constitution." The charges were described as follows:
The charges comprised five categories: I. use of judicial office to promote a private business, Gaza Road Ministries, in which Judge Hawkins was a speaker and a writer, having written and published a book titled “Old Stories, New Insights” based on biblical stories; II. failure to respect and comply with the law; III. failure to act in a manner promoting public confidence in the judiciary; IV. failure to devote full attention to her judicial office; and V. lack of candor with the Judicial Qualifications Commission (the Commission). 
The court gave "the findings and recommendations of the JQC great weight," but rejected the JQC's recommendation of serious sanctions short of removal. Noting the court's "constitutional responsibility ... to determine the appropriate sanction" and reminding of "the utmost importance of maintaining the integrity of the justice system," the court stated: 
For the reasons we explain, based on the violations found by the Hearing Panel which were supported by clear and convincing evidence, we conclude that removal from the bench is the only appropriate sanction in this case.
For the reasons set forth herein, we find, based on clear and convincing evidence, that Judge Judith W. Hawkins violated Canons 1, 2A, and 5D of the Code of Judicial Conduct, and that those violations cumulatively warrant the most severe sanction that we impose today. Accordingly, we hereby remove Leon County Judge Judith W. Hawkins from the office of county judge, effective when this decision becomes final. It is our hope that this decision will serve as a reminder to judges of their continuing obligation to personally observe the high standards of conduct mandated by the Code of Judicial Conduct, and to conduct themselves in all things in a manner that will demonstrate candor and preserve the integrity and independence of the judiciary.
As with any grouping of people, most won't need the reminder included at the end of the opinion.

The decision was unanimous, however, Justice Quince was recused.