Broward judge says she’s wrongly accused of owing millions


A Broward County judge is suing for damages and injunctive relief, saying a Florida prison inmate filed a fake $2.8 million lien against her as retribution for denying him bail, according to court records.

The Attorney General’s Office filed the case earlier this month in Leon County Circuit Civil Court on behalf of Circuit Judge Cynthia Imperato.

The case was filed in Tallahassee because the phony debt was recorded in a commercial lien database there, the suit says. The judge says she will “suffer irreparable harm” if it isn’t erased from her record through a court order.

Imperato also is in the middle of an unrelated judicial misconduct case after she was charged with drunk-driving in November 2013, reports show.

“We represent judges and other government officials who have improper liens placed against them,” said Whitney Ray, spokesman for Attorney General Pam Bondi.

He added that their “representation has no involvement” with the misconduct case, lodged by the state’s Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC).

The complaint says 43-year-old inmate Hezee Smith, now serving five years on a fleeing law enforcement felony, improperly registered $2.8 million in debt he claimed Imperato owed him.

He was charged in 2012 with fleeing law enforcement and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, both felonies, as well as misdemeanors and traffic violations, according to the suit. Smith was later acquitted on the firearm felony.

In October 2013, Smith appeared before Imperato to request that he be released on bail before trial. She denied it, ordering him kept in custody, the suit says. That was the first and last interaction the two had.

It was enough, apparently, for Smith to develop a grudge against the judge, according to the suit. In June 2014, a lien was filed against her, showing she owed Smith the unpaid millions.

Imperato was convicted last year of a misdemeanor DUI in Boca Raton, records show. She had reached an agreement with the JQC, the body that looks into allegations of judicial misconduct.

The commission had recommended a $5,000 fine and 20-day suspension from the bench, but the Florida Supreme Court in April rejected the deal.

Instead, it directed the JQC to hold a full hearing “so that the Court, in determining the appropriate sanction, will be apprised of all the facts and circumstances bearing on the violation.”

The commission held that hearing last month and will issue another recommendation to the court.

Jim Rosica

Jim Rosica is the Tallahassee-based Senior Editor for Florida Politics. He previously was the Tampa Tribune’s statehouse reporter. Before that, he covered three legislative sessions in Florida for The Associated Press. Jim graduated from law school in 2009 after spending nearly a decade covering courts for the Tallahassee Democrat, including reporting on the 2000 presidential recount. He can be reached at [email protected].


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