Embattled Broward Circuit Judge Ana Gardiner awarded Richard Cole, the attorney who recently hired her, some $600,000 in legal fees last summer, according to court documents.
Cole, managing partner of the law firm Cole Scott & Kissane, said the award played no part in his hiring of the judge, who was facing charges from the Judicial Qualifications Commission for allegedly having ex parte communication with a prosecutor and then being untruthful about it.
"I never saw or spoke to Judge Gardiner from the day of the result of the trial until very recently," said Cole. "I just happened to be in front of her as a judge. I didn't know her socially."
The civil case involved the sale of a Fort Lauderdale house by plaintiffs Suzanne Coleman and Julia Bengough and allegations that a Re/Max realtor named Keith Webster concealed information to favor one prospective buyer, builder William Bentz, over another. Cole represented Re/Max in the case.
Gardiner took over the case, which was initially filed in 2003, from retiring Judge Barry Goldstein, whom Coleman said had a solid grasp of the issues and had already ruled that she could seek punitive damages against the defendants.
Coleman said she immediately had concerns about Gardiner, who had been transferred to the civil division from her job as chief criminal judge after the ex parte allegations were published.
Coleman, a political activist and past president of the local chapter of the National Women's Political Caucus, said she voiced her concerns to her attorney, Jarrett Cooper of the Tripp Scott law firm.
"I said, 'I don't think she should be on this case,'" said Coleman. "I sent [Cooper] your [New Times] articles, and I said there's an investigation and she doesn't know
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civil procedure at all. After five years of battling, I didn't know if I want it to be in her hands."
Coleman said that Cooper told her not to worry about it. But when the trial started in September 2008, she said her fears were realized. During the case, which involved complicated real estate law, Gardiner repeatedly deferred to her opponent, Cole, as an authority on legal matters, she said.
"[Gardiner] and Richard Cole were quite cozy during the two-week trial," Coleman told me. "It was surprising ot me that she asked him to explain certain procedures. She looked at him as a resource during the trial, and I didn't think that was a good sign. Her demeanor was pretty cavalier during the course of the trial, and it made me uncomfortable."
Cole acknowledged that he helped Gardiner on matters of law and procedures.