Broward County

Broward Judge Kaplan's remark bumps him from case

A circuit judge who compared a teenager's outfit to clothes worn by the Columbine High School killers has been removed from the case, the latest of many verbal missteps that have dogged the Broward courts.

The 14-year-old boy was appearing before Judge Charles Kaplan, accused of bringing a razor blade to his middle school. He told the judge he forgot to take it out of his pants before school.

During the hearing in April, Kaplan focused on the boy's black clothing, fingernails and pierced ear, questioning a case manager's assessment that the boy was not dangerous.

"He's walking around with a razor in his pocket; he's wearing black; his fingernails are black; he's got that thing in his ear . . . I think if you look around at all the kids that are doing things in school, they're dressing this way," Kaplan is quoted as saying in Wednesday's ruling from the Fourth District Court of Appeal.

The boy's mother told Kaplan that her son had never been in a fight or hurt himself or anyone else, the court said. Kaplan brought up the 1999 Columbine High School killings in which two students wearing black trench coats killed 13 people.

"I mean, I'm no expert. I just know what I read in the papers, but it's like Columbine, right? He's dressed in black . . . He's depressed," Kaplan said, according to the appeals ruling.

The boy's lawyer, Sara Maya, argued that his clothes shouldn't affect his sentence and asked Kaplan to step down from the case. He denied that motion. She appealed.

On Wednesday, the appeals court removed Kaplan from the case.

"The judge's comments comparing his dress to stu-dents who create trouble in school, particularly those who caused the tragedy at Columbine, made it reason-able for [the boy] to fear that he would be more harshly sentenced due to his appear-ance," Judges Larry Klein and Robert Gross wrote in their decision.

Kaplan, who was elected to the bench last year, said, ‘‘I'm a new judge and trying to do the best job that I can."

Information on the charges against the boy was not available because he is a juvenile. He will be sen-tenced once a new judge is assigned.

"The children of Broward County are my major con-cern," Kaplan said.

He is the latest of several Broward judges who have been accused of making inap-propriate remarks.

Broward Chief Judge Dale Ross made remarks about Hispanics and rap music from the bench during a weekend bond session. Judge Charles Greene was reas-signed to the civil bench after using the acronym "NHI," which stands for No Humans Involved, after a trial.

County Judge Leonard Feiner created a furor in 2005 with comments about the court's primarily Haitian-American cleaning crew, say-ing they may live in hovels.

And the Broward state attorney's office has asked the governor to appoint a special prosecutor to investi-gate two other judges.

Judge Larry Seidlin, who retired last month, and Judge Robert Zack are accused of taking money and gifts from a defense attorney who appeared regularly before them.