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Appeals court: Miami judge should step off murder case for critical comments from bench

A Miami-Dade judge should step down from a murder case after publicly criticizing relatives of the slain victim, an appeals court says.

The unusual ruling comes less than a month after Circuit Judge Milton Hirsch, while on the bench, said relatives of Oscar Padilla showed “gross disrespect” for him when they appeared on a Spanish-language television news program to complain about one his rulings.

Hirsch was presiding over the murder case against Emin Rosales Ramirez, who is accused in the August killing of Oscar Padilla. After the judge’s remarks, prosecutors complained to the Third District Court of Appeal.

The appeals court, in a ruling Friday, said that Hirsch’s comments “would place a reasonably prudent person in fear of not receiving a fair and impartial trial.”

Rosales is charged with second-degree murder in the killing of Padilla, 62, and wounding his wife, Iris Colindres, 51. Authorities say Rosales, looking to kill Colindres’ two adult sons, shot the couple as they drove in Brownsville on Aug. 12.

Miami-Dade police detectives say Rosales’ target was Colindres’ sons. The reason: He believed they spray-painted his truck with the Spanish word “ cornudo,” or cuckold — an insult that suggested Rosales’ girlfriend was cheating on him.

After an extended bond hearing in October, Hirsch signaled that he didn’t think prosecutors proved Rosales was a danger to the community. Afterward, Padilla’s relatives complained publicly during a segment on Miami’s Telemundo television.

Then, at a later hearing, a prosecutor told Hirsch that the Padilla family feared for their lives. Hirsch shot back that the argument was hard to make because of the relatives’ appearance on television to criticize him.

“They are entitled to their First Amendment rights but as Justice Jackson says, ‘The Constitution affords the good citizens more rights than he and his sense of duty will exercise,’ ” Hirsch said. “They can say anything they want, but words have consequences.”

At that hearing, the judge granted Rosales a $100,000 bond and house arrest pending trial. However, Rosales is still in custody because immigration authorities have targeted him for possible deportation to his native Honduras.

Hirsch, who was elected to the bench in 2010, is not shy about making controversial legal decisions.

Last month, he curtailed long-accepted expert testimony about fingerprints, a ruling that prosecutors are expected to appeal. Last year, when a Tampa federal judge ruled that Florida’s drug law was unconstitutional, Hirsch was the only local state judge to follow suit. He tossed out more than two dozen cases, but Miami’s appeals court later reversed Hirsch’s decision.