Praise for defendant brings rebuke for Miami-Dade judge
Judge Deborah White-Labora of the Miami-Dade Court.

Judge Deborah White-Labora of the Miami-Dade Court

The Supreme Court has OK’d a public reprimand for Miami-Dade County Judge Deborah White-Labora, concluding she tarnished her position by writing a character reference for a defendant in a federal prosecution.

“Accordingly, we hereby command Judge Deborah White-Labora to appear before this court for the administration of a public reprimand at a time to be established by the clerk of this court,” the justices said unanimously Thursday in an unsigned opinion.

The Miami Herald originally reported that White-Labora used her official letterhead to seek leniency for Sam Konell.

He drew a 5-year sentence in February for illegally steering state defendants to a corrupt clinic, at a cost to Medicare of $63 million.

“It is not an exaggeration to say that he became an asset to virtually every judge in the building,” White-Labora wrote, according to the Herald. “He also helped hundreds, if not thousands, of mentally ill defendants.”

The judge, who once ran the county’s drug court and now presides over a domestic-violence calendar, had entered into a stipulation agreement with the state Judicial Qualifications Commission, or JQC, acknowledging wrongdoing and accepting the public reprimand.

“Although we recognize that Judge White-Labora’s conduct was well-intentioned, as Judge White-Labora understands by her agreement to the violations and discipline, her conduct is prohibited by the Code of Judicial Conduct,” the high court said.

The justices hold authority to “accept, reject, or modify in whole or in part” such decisions by the JQC, and concluded the punishment was in line with that meted out in similar cases in the past.

“By engaging in such conduct, Judge White-Labora failed to maintain the high standards of conduct necessary to preserve the integrity of the judiciary, violating Canon 1, and she acted in a manner that could potentially undermine public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary, violating Canon 2A,” the court said.

“Further, in violation of Canon 2B, Judge White-Labora created the appearance of impropriety and partiality by improperly lending the prestige of her office to advance the private interests of the defendant for whom she improperly acted as a character witness.”

Michael Moline

Michael Moline is a former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal and managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal. Previously, he reported on politics and the courts in Tallahassee for United Press International. He is a graduate of Florida State University, where he served as editor of the Florida Flambeau. His family’s roots in Jackson County date back many generations.


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