Miami-Dade County

Two misbehaving Miami judges at risk of losing robes after Supreme Court decisions

Miami-Dade judges Stephen Millan, left, and Maria Ortiz face expulsion from the bench for misconduct.
Miami-Dade judges Stephen Millan, left, and Maria Ortiz face expulsion from the bench for misconduct. Miami Herald

The Florida Supreme Court is rejecting proposed punishments for two Miami judges who got into trouble — one for using a racial slur, another for failing to report free luxury hotel stays.

Justices on Friday issued orders rejecting punishments recommended by the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission for Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Stephen Millan, and County Judge Maria Ortiz.

The court did not specify what the punishments should be, but legal experts say the writing is on the wall for the judges.

"The Supreme Court has sent an extremely strong hint they want both of them removed from office," said Miami lawyer Michael Catalano, who is not involved in the cases and often represents judges accused of misconduct. "Normally, judges get the hint and resign."

After an investigation found probable cause for misconduct, the commission and Millan agreed to a recommendation of a 30-day suspension, a $5,000 fine and a public reprimand. He called an African-American defendant a "moolie" — an obscure Italian-American reference to blacks, a term usually heard in mob movies.; he blamed his upbringing in New York.

Legal groups, including Miami's oldest black bar association, have issued public calls for a more severe punishment.

As for Ortiz, she acknowledged she failed to report free hotel stays and VIP gifts that landed her husband in jail on allegations of public corruption. The commission recommended Ortiz pay a $5,000 fine and get a public reprimand.

Ortiz is married to Mariano Fernandez, the former Miami Beach building official who was arrested in February on allegations he accepted gifts from the RIU hotel chain in exchange for favors to help speed up renovations at the company's South Beach resort.

The Florida Supreme Court sent both cases back to the JQC for a full hearing — in essence, a trial presided over by a panel that includes judges, lawyers and others.