Dade Circuit Judge John Gale, dogged by allegations of unethical conduct, has resigned from the bench.
Gale's resignation -- effective Nov. 30 -- occurs three days before his trial on ethics violations was scheduled to begin in Miami. His resignation now forces a state ethics commission to cancel the trial.
Gale, an 18-year veteran who once was the second most powerful judge in the county's bustling civil division, had publicly stated he wanted the ethics trial to proceed so he could clear his name.
In a resignation letter made public Friday, the 64-year-old Gale said he resigned to spare Florida taxpayers and himself the economic burden of a trial.
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"For the citizens of Florida to have to pay the costs associated with a lengthy trial is not in their best interest, " said Gale, noting that his term expires on Jan. 8. He said he regretted not having the opportunity to clear his name, "but the people who support me do not need that assurance, and I do not need it either because I know I have done no wrong."
Gale's resignation follows a series of Miami Herald articles disclosing details of Gale's life style, his court appointment of close friends and cases in which he may have had conflicts of interest.
The Judicial Qualifications Commission, which regulates the behavior of Florida judges, filed one set of charges against Gale in June and another in October.
The commission charged Gale with, among other things, improper use of expensive cars and a luxurious rent-free condominium and of getting free meals, health care, airline tickets and marble tile.
The commission, alleging that Gale violated ethical canons and engaged in conduct that undermined his fitness for office, scheduled a trial on the charges for Dec. 3.
"We were committed to pushing forward and pursuing the public interest with a Dec. 3 trial, " said Miami attorney Charles V. Senatore, who was hired by the JQC to prosecute the case. "After an extensive investigation, I was highly confident of being able to prove the allegations at trial.
"But John Gale has apparently elected -- despite publicly stating he had called for the investigation himself -- to resign on the Friday before the trial was scheduled, " said Senatore, a partner in the firm of Jorden & Schulte.
Richard C. McFarlain, a Tallahassee attorney representing Gale, said his client wanted a trial, but economic realities proved too great a hardship.
"He really thinks that this case is winnable in front of an impartial panel, " said McFarlain. "But it's just a lot of money -- and for what? For an extra 38 days before he goes out of office anyway?
"Why spend $50,000 to $100,000 for 38 more days on the bench?" said McFarlain.
Gale was soundly defeated on Sept. 4 in a bid to retain his judgeship. Coral Gables lawyer Gene Fierro defeated Gale for the Circuit Court seat 57 percent to 43 percent.
On Friday, McFarlain formally asked the state Supreme Court to drop the charges against Gale, cancel the trial and dismiss the case. Once a judge resigns, McFarlain argued, the JQC no longer has jurisdiction and any trial becomes a moot issue.
In an interview, McFarlain criticized the state for going after a lame duck judge in an era of budget cutbacks. Senatore countered by saying it is important to expose inappropriate conduct as a deterrent to other judges still on the bench.
By resigning on Nov. 30, Gale preserves his state retirement benefits for the month of December, said McFarlain.
Gale, who became a judge in 1972 and rose to chief of the nation's fourth busiest civil division, first informed Gov. Bob Martinez of his decision to resign in a letter dated Oct. 16.
Martinez, in an Oct. 30 response, accepted his resignation and wrote: "On behalf of the citizens of the state of Florida, I would like to express my sincere appreciation to you for your commitment to Florida's judiciary . . . "
Gale's attorney said Friday that his client is looking forward to entering private practice and getting on with his life.
That process, said McFarlain, has already begun.
Gale, he said, has taken a month off to vacation in Italy.