The Florida Supreme Court on Wednesday morning scolded a Miami-Dade County judge, who last year told a store owner to “go f--- yourself” in the midst of a heated reelection campaign.
As part of the punishment for her judicial misconduct, Jacqueline Schwartz appeared before the justices for a formal reprimand — the last of several disciplinary measures taken against her.
Reading from prepared remarks, Chief Justice Jorge Labarga admonished Schwartz for her use of “one of the worst profanities known to the English language,” which he said violated the public’s trust in her.
The effectiveness of our judiciary rests ultimately on the trust and confidence that the people confer upon judges.
Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga
In June 2014, Schwartz swore at a convenience store owner in a dispute over an oversized campaign sign that Schwartz’s opponent had put up at a Coconut Grove Kwik Stop before the primary election.
Schwartz lost her temper and also threatened to sue store owner Firas Hussein after he refused to let Schwartz put up her campaign sign as well. Schwartz, whose courtroom is in Hialeah, was later reelected.
She was also chastised for violating judicial codes by interfering with the official court record in a separate case. She made notes in the margins of original court documents, then later asked her bailiff to erase them when an attorney requested certified copies of the documents with her notations.
Earlier this year, Schwartz attempted to settle both matters with the Judicial Qualifications Commission, which handles matters of judicial misconduct. She accepted responsibility for her actions.
Labarga said Wednesday that the justices are increasingly rejecting the commission’s recommended discipline in favor of harsher penalties, in order to send a message that “misconduct, such as yours, will be taken very seriously.”
“The effectiveness of our judiciary rests ultimately on the trust and confidence that the people confer upon judges,” Labarga said. “When you curse a resident of this state using such language, that resident and the public at large correctly question the soundness of your judgment as the holder of judicial office.”
He added, in regards to the second matter: “Judges are not privileged simply to erase their potential mistakes from the public record. This misconduct we cannot and will not tolerate.”
With a solemn face, Schwartz stood before the justices in silence for about seven minutes. They gave her no opportunity to address them before dismissing her. She declined to comment afterward.
In her letter of apology to Hussein dated May 27, Schwartz said she was sorry for using “vulgar language” and acknowledged that her behavior was “improper and irresponsible and did not promote public confidence in the judiciary.”
“I am a representative of the judiciary and it is critical that I maintain the conduct and the character so that all people regard and perceive a judge’s ability to carry out judicial functions and responsibilities with integrity, impartiality and competence,” she wrote. “My behavior did not reflect those qualities.”