Ever since the law firm Cole, Scott & Kissane hired scandalized Judge Ana Gardiner to work in its Plantation office, a lot of people, including myself, have wondered, "What were they thinking?"
Here was a judge accused by the Judicial Qualifications Commission not only of improper ex parte communication with a prosecutor during a murder trial but also of lying about it. Wasn't the law firm concerned about its own reputation when it made the decision?
I asked Richard Cole, managing partner of the firm and the man who says he made the decision to hire Gardiner, about it.
"From my due diligence on what I had read in the newspaper, the only source I had of information, I was satisfied that the explanation she was giving was appropriate," said Cole. "I was chairman of the federal grievance committee, so I have some background in these things. I thought her explanation that I read in the press, I guess from her lawyer [David Bogenschutz], seemed to be an appropriate response to
criticisms being made. If she spoke about the [murder] case, that would be inappropriate. She says that didn't happen."
Wait a minute. I asked Cole -- whose 155-member firm chiefly represents big insurance companies and health-care companies -- if he had at least read any of the transcripts from the JQC case against Gardiner, which are easily accessed online.
"No," he said.
Then I asked him what he meant when he said "newspaper." What exactly had he read about Gardiner?
"The Miami Herald here and the Sun-Times or whatever you call it in Fort Lauderdale," he said. "You know, the normal ones."
This wasn't good. The Ana Gardiner coverage in those newspaper wasn't strong or complete. Did he at least Google the name Ana Gardiner to see what he could find?
"I absolutely did not," he said, explaining that he is 62 and rarely gets on the internet other than to check his email.
Did he read JAABlog?
"I haven't," he said.
How about the Daily Pulp?
"What is that?"
We both had a laugh when I told him. I asked Cole why he hired Gardiner, and he indicated that she had been recommended by someone in the firm. He wouldn't say who. When pressed, he said "I honestly don't recall," which is interesting since he said he approached Gardiner only last month.
"I talk to a lot of people both inside and outside the firm," Cole said.
He said he simply believed that Gardiner would be a strong hire for his rapidly expanding firm. He told me that he didn't believe Gardiner's judgeship or her Florida Bar license were at stake in the JQC investigation and indicated she took the job because she has two college-aged sons and needed the extra income (a reason Gardiner herself pointed to in her resignation letter).
"I wanted to strengthen our Fort Lauderdale office," he said. "I wanted to bring in some diversity. I thought she brought in the criteria of being a smart person as well as an Hispanic female. I don't think there has ever been a question about the competence of Ana Gardiner as to intelligence or that she is considered an excellent lawyer and an excellent judge. I don't think there was any question about her legal acumen and qualification as a judge or to be an excellent lawyer.
"And I have received no communication from any lawyer or judge to the contrary of what I just said. I have people stop me on the street and say, 'She will be a terrific addition to your firm.'"