In the recent interview with the Pulp, Broward County Judge John "Jay" Hurley defended his decision to go to Broward Sheriff's deputies over a comment on JAABlog, a leading blog concerned with courthouse issues.
Hurley went to BSO after after an anonymous commenter posted the time and place of Hurley's wedding at the Riverside Hotel two weeks ago. Hurley was married to a former courthouse cafeteria worker named Maylin Romero, who now works in furniture sales, in a ceremony officiated by Broward Chief Judge Victor Tobin and attended by U.S. George LeMieux (Crist was invited but had other commitments).
Hurley said he was upset when he learned about the comment, which he said also snarkily implied that he, along with Crist, is gay.
"I don't think that I have a big ego that I have to take down blogs; I don't do that," he told me. "If you talked to people who knew me, I think if they are going to try to criticize me; they might say I'm
not bright or I don't know the law, but they won't say that I have some huge ego."
Still, he decided to try to take down the blog comment.
"I didn't know if there was going to be a crazy showing up at my wedding," he told me. "I couldn't find the motive of the person who would put that up there. Is this a lawyer trying to be a prankster and a jerk, or is this a private investigator trying to follow me, or is this a lunatic? I didn't know. I was concerned about the post. Was this poster trying to get people to go to my wedding, bad people, criminals, people who I have handled their domestic violence cases? That's what I was concerned about."
He called JAABlog administrator Bill Gelin, who as reported last week, took down the comment. "If anyone calls and personally bitches about something, we'll pull it down," Gelin told me last week. "He felt it was an invasion of privacy and borderline threatening."
Pretty standard stuff so far, since blogs are malleable media and anonymous comments are often deleted from them after complaints. But Hurley went a step further. First he had lunch with prosecutor Morgan Rood, who he said advised him that the anonymous comment wasn't a crime but suggested he might want to take it up with the Broward Sheriff's Office. He also said he also spoke with Tobin and other judges, who advised him to do the same.
Hurley said he then went to BSO's unit on the first floor of the courthouse and told a deputy he was concerned about the blog post. Interestingly, there is no paper trail of Hurley's complaint. Equally interesting was the choice for the detective assigned to the matter: Det. Freddy Avalos, who happens to be an acquaintance of Hurley's from courthouse and Republican political circles.
Avalos, who works in the aggravated felony unit, is the husband of former Broward Judge Catalina Avalos and a Crist appointee on the board of the South Broward Hospital District.
The presence of Avalos sounded to me like too much of a coincidence to have happened in the normal course of BSO business, but Hurley said he didn't request Avalos' presence and was surprised to see him when he arrived in his chambers with Rood to talk about the matter.
"This guy Freddy walks in, and I said, 'Hey, Freddy, how are you doing?'" Hurley said. "It turns out he's the guy on it."
Hurley said he and Avalos and Rood discussed the possibility of unmasking the commenter by acquiring the Internet Protocol via a subpoena.
"My concern was, 'Who is this, is this a lunatic?'" Hurley said. "We sat there and kicked it around the room and agreed that it was something to irritate you or aggravate you but it's not a crime. To [Det. Avalos'] credit, he didn't put our acquaintance in the forefront. He said there isn't anything here. Initially I was upset about it but then I thought about it and said, "I got bigger fish to fry,' and I forgot about it."
Of course it wasn't a crime. And the judge, in my view, should have known that before he tried to make a criminal case out of it.
The commenter was almost surely what Hurley initially suspected: a lawyer (I wonder if it may have been a fellow judge) giving him a hard time. And had Avalos and Rood actually kowtowed to Hurley and unmasked the commenter, it would have amounted to a tremendous abuse of power that would have likely created a media firestorm.
The right to anonymity in the age of Internet media is an issue of great importance. Just as certain whistleblowers and law enforcement sources deserve anonymity, so do those who submit information on the Internet. Hurley's stab at violating that right was ill-advised at best and indicates he might indeed need to bone up on the law and think a little harder before he ever makes such a move in the future.
UPDATED: While I don't agree with his actions in regards to the blog comment, I've done a bit of a 180 on the contempt charge. Hurley addressed the controversial 4-month contempt sentence on the mouthing-off defendant and, in a nutshell, he said he did it to set an example, but never intended to send the defendant to jail for the full period of time. He said he personally took it upon himself to mitigate the sentence after a few days. Knowing the full story, I think he handled that situation well.