In the legal world, it's forbidden for a judge to discuss a case with one of the parties in the case without the other party's knowledge.
Doing so is called ex parte communication, and because it could unfairly favor one party over the other, judges who have been found to do it can get kicked off the bench.
According to court papers obtained by JAA blog, which covers the Broward county courthouse, circuit court judge John Patrick Contini is accused of having improperly advised a defense attorney. State Attorney Michael Satz has filed a motion calling for Contini to recuse himself and be removed from all open cases — nearly 1,000 of them.
On March 20, Contini sent an email to his own staff attorney, Doug Feuer, who apparently helps him write up court orders. This email included an order that had been prepared by a Palm Beach County judge in a case that took place there. Contini explained that this was a wonderful example of an order granting downward departure, i.e., letting a defendant get away with a lighter sentence than sentencing guidelines typically allow.
Contini wrote to Feuer that he could use it as a template:
"If you ever needed confirmation that you were doing the right thing in helping me to *perfect* a great template (of sorts) of an order for unique downward departure reasons/cases and decisions, YOUJUST GOT IT!... Please read her very thorough and thoughtful opinion, which we can also use (90 % thereof) to check against the good work we've already begun..."
Contini's communications with Feuer were not the problem — he'd be allowed to have confidential communication with his own staff.
However, Contini then forwarded his communique with Feuer to a public defender, who typically represents indigent or poor people who have been accused of crimes.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
Contini's forward to assistant public defender Samuel Perlmutter included a note: "hopefully you can perfect your own motions for downward departure (when you believe appropriate) using the excellent research you've already begin." [sic]
Perlmutter in turn shared this with four attorneys in his department; one of them alerted the prosecutors.
Satz — the county's head prosecutor — wrote in yesterday's pleading that by secretly advising the public defender, Contini's court "has removed itself from its role as being neutral and impartial in all matters coming before the court."
According to an online bio, Contini was a Broward prosecutor in the 1980s but then ran his own criminal defense firm from 1987 to 2014, when he was elected judge.