State judicial investigators filed new charges against former Miami-Dade County Judge Ana Maria Pando — and then promptly dismissed the case.
The Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission voluntarily dropped all the charges against Pando, who was defeated in an August election, in exchange for her agreeing to not run for office again.
The additional charges were filed Nov. 26, and all charges dropped on Dec. 6, according to state records.
“We don’t think it was appropriate for them to file these amended charges, and then to immediately dismiss them, unless their purpose was to embarrass her,” said Michael A. Catalano, the attorney who represented Pando in the case.
Pando was one of two judges who presided over the Hialeah branch of county court.
The attorney for the commission, Lansing C. Scriven, did not immediately return a call for comment.
Pando had been accused of violating several judicial cannons after she wrote a letter, on her official letterhead, asking that a friend’s business be reinstated by the state. Representatives for the company — Florida Wellness & Rehabilitation Center, which is owned by Mark Cereceda —claimed to have accidently shut the company down. The Florida Division of Corporations treated the judge’s letter as a court order, and reinstated the company for free.
At the time, companies affiliated with Cereceda had cases pending before Pando. Cereceda also contributed to Pando’s reelection campaign just weeks after the judge’s letter was written.
Catalano, Pando’s attorney, said that the judge didn’t realize Cereceda had cases in front of her.
“She recused herself after realizing he had cases in front of her,” Catalano said.
Before dropping the charges against Pando, the judicial watchdogs leveled more charges against her. The commission claimed that:
* Cereceda made “a financial gift” to Pando that should have been disclosed because of the value of the gift, but that wasn’t disclosed. Therefore, the commission argued, Pando’s financial disclosure report was “inaccurate and incomplete.”
Catalano said that Cereceda mentioned in a deposition that he may have given the judge money, but: “He didn’t say it with certainty. He said he wasn’t sure, and nobody could find the transactions.”
* Pando in 2006 repaid loans on $10,000 each to Omar Armenteros and Rafael Rius, who have several businesses registered in Florida, according to state records.
“You did not disclose the existence of those loans at any time on your financial disclosure reports as required,” the commission wrote in its notice of amended charges.
Therefore, her financial disclosure report for that year, and possibly other years, was inaccurate, the commission wrote.
* Pando misrepresented her endorsements during campaign season. Catalano called this charge “stupid,” and said it was an oversight. The person in charge of Pando’s reelection website didn’t check with the judge before putting the endorsements online, Catalano said.
* Pando “routinely” wrote “worthless checks.”
“Your conduct in writing bad checks is fundamentally dishonest, unethical and brings disrepute on the judiciary and the legal profession as a whole.”
Catalano argued that the commission “illegally” got ahold of Pando’s bank records to level these charges. He said the commission got the records from the Miami-Dade County State Attorney’s office while it was wrapping up its own investigation into the judge. A representative of the state attorney’s office wrote in an email on Monday that its investigation is still open.
Even more importantly, Catalano said, was that “not one person was stiffed out of one penny.”
“She paid overdraft fees to the bank, and the bank covered them. No one actually got a bad check,” Catalano said.
Pando, meanwhile, is moving on, her attorney said.
“Ana’s got a very nice job now with a civil firm, and she’s starting to practice, and is happy,” Catalano said.
According to the Florida Bar, Pando is working at Alvarez Carbonell Feltman Jimenez & Gomez, in Coral Gables.
Herald writer Theo Karantsalis contributed to this report.
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