Miami-Dade County Judge Jacqueline Schwartz has some decisions to make, even before the Judicial Qualifications Commission and the Florida Supreme Court make theirs. Her personal challenges have become professional liabilities. If she cannot overcome the first in order to assure the community that elected her to bench that she can display the demeanor and sound judgment that her job demands, then she should step down.
In a world where most people deserve a second chance, Judge Schwartz has cast doubt on whether she should get a third.
On Tuesday, the state Supreme Court suspended Ms. Schwartz. She has until May 9 to respond. The chief judge of the 11th Judicial Circuit already had removed her from the bench three weeks earlier, after she appeared to be drunk in the courtroom. Her attorney says that she was having a reaction to prescription meds. She is on paid medical leave.
But 10 days before that, Ms. Schwartz had a meltdown at a Greek restaurant in Miami where she cursed at a waiter who would not refill her wine glass. She was so disruptive that someone called police — whom she called “pigs.” Ms. Schwartz herself reported the incident to the Judicial Qualifications Commission, saying she had done nothing wrong.
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Like every judge, Ms. Schwartz is human. She faces the challenges that the rest of us do.
How she copes with them is another matter. Her particular hurdles and how they manifest themselves have no place in a courtroom, especially when displayed by an arbiter of the law.
Before her current troubles, Judge Schwartz was been dogged by allegations of being condescending and imperious to lawyers, defendants and anyone else in her courtroom.
In 2014, she drew two credible opponents in her campaign for reelection.
At this point, many readers might be asking: Didn’t the Herald recommend Judge Schwartz?
Yes, we did, reluctantly. Despite all the courthouse buzz about her alleged less-than-judicial demeanor, absolutely no one whom the Editorial Board interviewed would go on the record — retaliation is real, apparently. And because we do not traffic in rumor, innuendo or accusations by anonymous sources, we could not in good conscience rely on such information for our recommendation.
That said, Ms. Schwartz herself went “on the record,” when months later she cursed at a storeowner who had a political sign for one of her opponents in the parking lot.
By that time she had been thrown into a runoff, and the Herald withdrew its recommendation. For that inappropriate fit of pique, the Florida Supreme Court recommended that she be suspended for 30 days and fined $10,000.
True, she was not on the job when she was in that grocery store — or at the Greek restaurant. But she crossed some bright red lines when, as investigators said, she yelled, “You’re a f---ing idiot, you don’t know who I am,” at the waiter who wouldn’t pour another round. Again, misusing her professional status for personal gain.
While the JQC continues its investigation into Ms. Schwartz’s case, the judge, too, must decide if her behavior is in keeping with the Code of Judicial Conduct, which admonishes: “A judge shall respect and comply with the law and shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.” After two suspensions in her 13-year career, we’re not yet persuaded that she should be allowed to risk a third.