Broward County

Broward judge suspended without pay after grabbing employee ‘around the neck’ in anger

The Florida Supreme Court on Friday suspended a Broward judge without pay after investigators said she grabbed an employee around the neck and shook him for failing to prepare her afternoon docket.

A state commission late Thursday released its recommendation that Circuit Judge Vegina Hawkins be suspended from her position as the investigation continues into the alleged attack on the employee.

The Florida Supreme Court followed the recommendation Friday, and said Hawkins would be “immediately suspended from office without pay pending disposition of this proceeding.” The suspension began at 5 p.m. Friday.

The incident happened in the Broward County courthouse on June 11.

The video shows Hawkins, in her judge’s robe, bringing a male employee into the hallway and immediately putting her hands around his neck. Then they have a more than minute-long conversation that appears to be heated, with both making hand gestures.

According to the investigation by the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission, Hawkins summoned the employee into a hallway because he had not prepared the afternoon docket for later that day.

“As the employee walks through the doorway, Judge Hawkins placed her hands around his neck and shook him back and forth,” according to the JQC. “She then released him, and proceeded to have what appears to be a brief, but intense, discussion with the employee.”

When shown the video, Hawkins insisted that she never touched the employee, and only “invaded his personal space.” She also said the actions were “in jest.”

The commission, however, didn’t believe her. The employee said she was “extremely upset” and the video corroborated it was no joke, according to documents filed in the case.

Her attorney, David Bogenshutz, asked the Florida Supreme Court to not suspend the judge, a former Broward prosecutor who was appointed to the bench in 2016.

In response to the recommendation, Bogenschutz wrote that the judge admitted wrongdoing. “Every move I made was wrong. It was improper. No judge should ever to (sic) anything like that. I take full responsibility for it,” he wrote, quoting Hawkins.

“There has been no suggestion that this judge did anything that would warrant or merit the draconian response to this several seconds-long incident with a suspension without pay,” he wrote.

Miami Herald staff writer Carli Teproff contributed to this report.