Judge David Audlin was serving as Monroe County’s chief circuit judge in late April when he announced via an open letter to friends and colleagues that he was retiring with four years left in his second six-year term.
The well-respected Audlin, 56, who was elected in 2006 and again in 2012, did not give a reason at the time for his sudden and unexpected departure from his $145,000-per-year judgeship with the 16th Judicial Circuit Court.
On Friday, his last day as a judge, Audlin said his voluntary decision was based on an “inappropriate invasion of my privacy.”
On Jan. 16, a blogger found a profile of Audlin on Manhunt, which bills itself as the world’s biggest gay hookup site with a slogan: Any guy. Any time. Anywhere. JAABlog posted the profile under the headline: “Let’s Get Sweaty.”
The next day, a website called Above the Law posted a story about the blog with the headline: “Judge’s Sex Ad Found on Internet Hookup Site.” While Audlin deleted his Manhunt profile, a screen grab of it is readily accessible now and likely indefinitely will be in cyberspace.
Audlin did nothing illegal. No one publicly has called for his ouster. And Audlin is not apologizing for the posting of the profile, which he said was made on a private website for people 18 and older and was supposed to remain private. He even used his real name in the profile, DavidKW, with the KW standing for Key West, his hometown for the past 30 years.
Audlin also said he has never tried to hide his sexuality. “I’ve been out since I was 23. And as an attorney and running as a judge, I never hid it. But I never made it an issue. It’s just part of who I am.”
But upon months of reflection, Audlin said he decided to return to private practice. “I’m looking forward to my constitutional rights being restored — my right to privacy and to be left alone in my private life.”
Audlin contended that a judge’s personal life should be kept off limits if it does not interfere with his ability to be a good judge, be fair to people and have a proper, professional demeanor. “I think some people look at a gay judge’s personal life as being interesting or salacious. I suppose it’s the times we live in. This whole matter has nothing to do with my service to the people or my work as a judge.”
The comments under the postings about Audlin’s profile, which included his sexual preference and size of his genitalia, were mostly negative. And while Audlin repeated that his profile was supposed to remain on the private site, he added: “I don’t think to gay people it was unusual or extreme. I guess it’s offensive to others with more conservative, religious beliefs. I get that.”
The Keys law community has had nothing but good things to say publicly about Audlin as a judge and person since he announced his retirement.
During his eight-year tenure, Audlin’s most significant decision came in 2008, when he ruled that the 1977 ban on adoption by gays and lesbians was unconstitutional.
In his passionate 67-page opinion, Audlin wrote: “Disqualifying every gay Floridian from raising a family, enjoying grandchildren or carrying on the family name, based on nothing more than lawful sexual conduct, while assuring child abusers, terrorists, drug dealers, rapists and murderers receive at least individualized consideration” is so “disproportionately severe” that it violates the state and U.S. Constitutions.
“He had the profound courage to make a decision that dramatically changed my life and the life of my son,” said Key West attorney Wayne Larue Smith, who was a party in the case along with his partner Daniel Skahen.
As a result of the ruling, Smith and Skahen became the first openly gay couple to adopt a child in Florida. The ruling also helped open the doors for other gay parents to adopt.
Smith added that as a practicing lawyer, he’s “very sad” to see Audlin leave the bench. “He’s one of the best judges in Monroe County. ... I know Manhunt. It’s not my style. But it’s no different from a whole host of personal ad websites. They use the vernacular hookup, but it’s not a reason to evaluate a person’s judicial qualifications. But as a gay person we’re held to a different standard.”
Audlin also had been assigned to another case important to the gay community. Key West bartenders Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones recently sued the state because they were denied a marriage license. It’s similar to the case filed in Miami Dade County by six same-sex couples.
“I’m not sad, Audlin said. “They’re all good judges in Monroe County. I don’t know how it will come out, but whoever gets the case will consider the law carefully.”
That lawsuit is one of 1,025 pending Audlin cases that were being reassigned Friday. During this current six-month assignment of cases in Monroe County, Audlin was handling 75 percent of the circuit civil cases, foreclosures in Marathon, juvenile delinquency in Key West and county wide appeals from the county court, said Holly Elomina, the trial court administrator.
Gov. Rick Scott will appoint a judge to fill the vacancy. Bob Shillinger, chairman of the 16th Judicial Circuit Nominating Committee, said he is awaiting authorization from Scott’s office to begin the process. Once the authorization is given, the committee has 60 days to come up with a maximum of six candidates for Scott to consider. Scott than has 60 days to make a decision.
It has been 14 years since a Monroe County judge has not finished a term. In 2000, then-Gov. Jeb Bush appointed prosecutor Luis Garcia to fulfill the vacancy of Judge Steven Shea, who was ousted by the Florida Supreme Court for violating the code of judicial conduct 18 times. It included threatening two lawyers to drop a case in which Shea had a financial stake through the ownership of two mobile homes and telling his head of security at a courthouse that he almost brandished his gun at a defendant who kept standing up.
Audlin also has served as a public defender, an assistant attorney general and chief assistant statewide prosecutor in Tallahassee.
“I always tried to be fair and follow the law,” he said. “That’s what a judge should be. People should not be worried about a judge because of what he does legally on his personal time.”