The Florida Supreme Court on Friday rejected a recommended 30-day suspension without pay and a public reprimand for a Miami-Dade County circuit judge who admitted using racial epithets.
In a unanimous order, the justices rejected the proposed sanctions against Circuit Judge Stephen Millan and asked the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission, which investigates judicial wrongdoing, to conduct a more-thorough probe. The justices also rejected a stipulation agreement reached by the judge and an investigative panel of the JQC, in which Millan acknowledged that he used racially disparaging language to describe a criminal defendant and members of the public. Millan also admitted that he conducted what is known as improper “ex parte communication” with an attorney, according to the agreement dated May 21.
The investigative panel found that Millan used the racial epithet “moolie” to describe an African-American defendant during a one-on-one conversation with the defendant’s lawyer. In another instance, while on a break with attorneys in his chamber, Millan instructed a bailiff to return to the courtroom and retrieve his wallet because he didn’t “trust it in there with those thugs,” the investigative panel wrote in its findings and disciplinary recommendations.
A defense attorney believed Millan was referring to his client or the client’s family or friends. The “ex parte” conversation involved a phone call Millan made to the defense attorney several days after the “thugs” remark. The attorney said he was uncomfortable talking without the prosecution present, but the judge went on to talk about at least six of the attorney’s cases. In the stipulation agreement, Millan signed off on the suspension and the $5,000 fine recommended by the investigative panel.
The agreement said the judge had also “taken significant steps to address his misconduct,” such as reviewing “scholarly articles and publications about racial bias in the court system” and attending, at his own expense, a “seminar about racial fairness” in the court system.
“Judge Millan apologizes for his misconduct, and deeply regrets that his remarks have damaged the public’s perception of fairness and impartiality of the judiciary,” Alexander Williams, assistant general counsel to the judicial commission, wrote. But in Friday’s unanimous order, the justices ordered the commission to conduct a full hearing “in order to fully develop the facts regarding any misconduct that occurred, so that the (Supreme) Court, in determining the appropriate discipline, will be apprised of all the facts and circumstances bearing on the alleged violations.”
It is not unusual for the justices to reject recommended sanctions and order full hearings prior to imposing tougher penalties on judges who have violated standards regulating judicial conduct.