A Miami-Dade judge, lauded for working with drug-addled defendants, has agreed to a public reprimand after she improperly wrote a letter of support for a mental-health worker convicted of federal Medicare fraud.
County Judge Deborah White-Labora is the third Miami judge in the past two months to get into trouble with Florida's Judicial Qualifications Commission The other two are facing possible expulsion from the bench, one for using a racial slur, the other for failing to report luxury hotel stays gifted to her husband.
White-Labora was cited for improperly using her position to vouch for Sam Konell, who was sentenced in February to five years in federal prison for illegally steering state-court defendants to a corrupt clinic, which in all fraudulently billed Medicare for more than $63 million.
Konell was known as the dean of patient brokers at Miami’s criminal courthouse, lobbying judges to release mentally ill patients into the care of Hialeah’s Southern Winds Hospital, instead of jail.
Before his sentencing, Konell asked White-Labora to write a letter on his behalf — and she agreed, typing it up on her judicial letterhead. She asked for a lenient sentence.
“It is not an exaggeration to say that he became an asset to virtually every judge in the building,” wrote White-Labora, who formerly headed the county’s pioneering drug court between 2008 and 2012. “He also helped hundreds, if not thousands, of mentally ill defendants.”
The letter did not come to light until the Miami Herald mentioned it in a story about Konell's sentencing.
White-Labora cooperated with the JQC investigation and acknowledged that she violated Florida rules barring letters on behalf of defendants because they do not "uphold the Integrity and Independence of the judiciary."
"The commission is mindful of the fact that her action in writing the letter, while inappropriate, was not motivated by selfish interests or motives," according to the findings of the investigation. "The JQC also notes Judge White-Labora's lengthy and heretofore unblemished service as a judicial officer. "
The discipline is not final — the Florida Supreme Court must approve the public reprimand.