Caught on camera: Florida judge stands accused of choking court worker

Decorative Scales of Justice in the Courtroom
"It is never appropriate ... to put (one's) hands around the neck of an employee."

A judicial discipline board is recommending that the Florida Supreme Court immediately suspend a judge caught on tape last month angrily choking a clerk for not having paperwork ready when she wanted it, court records show.

Hawkins
(Photo via PeopleInfo.net)

Circuit Judge Vegina T. “Gina” Hawkins, who sits in Fort Lauderdale, was charged Thursday with “inappropriate conduct” under the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct, showing an “unfitness to serve,” according to an investigative panel of the Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC).

On June 11, “you instigated a physical confrontation with a court employee,” the JQC’s “notice of formal charges” to Hawkins says. The commission investigates misconduct accusations against judges.

“You sought out the confrontation by interrupting the employee’s work in another courtroom, and summoning him into a secure hallway, ” the charging document says. “As he walked through the door, you placed your hands around the neck of the employee and shook him. Your actions were captured on a courthouse security camera.

“The genesis of the conflict with the employee appears to have been your displeasure with the fact that he did not have your 2 p.m. docket available for you that morning.” Afterward, the two had “what appears to be a brief, but intense, discussion.”

Court filings show Hawkins is represented by Fort Lauderdale attorney J. David Bogenschutz, once described by the Sun-Sentinel as “the laywer judges, politicians, the wealthy and well-connected in Broward County often call upon in times of legal trouble.”

A message seeking comment was left with an assistant Thursday afternoon.

Gov. Rick Scott appointed Hawkins to the 17th Circuit Court in November 2018. The Nova Southeastern University law school grad had been an assistant state attorney.

In another filing, Hawkins apologized but explained she “merely invaded his personal space.” She also said she and the employee “were ‘fairly friendly,’ and described her actions as engaging in ‘jest,’ ” the filing said.

The JQC panel didn’t buy it, saying her explanation was “clearly refuted by the security video (and) by statements from the employee involved and others.”

In fact, the “employee involved did not describe the judge’s demeanor that morning as friendly or joking, but described her as ‘extremely upset.’ “

Another employee “described Judge Hawkins’ overall behavior as ‘unnecessarily unprofessional and unpredictable.’ “

In fact, Hawkins later acknowledged that “every move I made was wrong. It was improper … I take full responsibility for it.”

A suspension without pay would be a “draconian response to this several seconds-long incident,” Bogenschutz said in written objections filed later Thursday.

“She has an unblemished career as a prosecutor and private practitioner, as well as a police officer,” he said. “She has been a circuit judge, at the time of this incident, for approximately six months, beginning what – for all intents and purposes – appears to be an outstanding career on the Circuit Court of the 17th Judicial Circuit.”

Still, the JQC panel said it was “concerned by Judge Hawkins’ inability to understand that even in jest, her conduct was wholly inappropriate,” its suspension recommendation says.

“Within the judicial branch, as in civilian life, it is never appropriate for a person in a supervisory position to put their hands around the neck of an employee or subordinate and shake them.”

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]


8 comments

  • Reasonable Minds Can't Differ

    July 18, 2019 at 4:29 pm

    Her first name says it all.

    The couldn’t make the Dumb, Dumber & Dumbest team.

    Undoubtedly, though, someone will scream, RACISM! Racism, my a**.

  • Enough already

    July 19, 2019 at 6:58 am

    That was assault. Why was she not arrested? The girl who threw a drink at Congressman Gaetz was arrested for assault, as she should have been, and never bodily touched the congressman. I don’t get it.

    • OEA

      July 19, 2019 at 4:30 pm

      I saw the video that wasn’t even a real agression, it lasted 2 seconds and then they talked like nothing. Snowflake.

  • martin

    July 19, 2019 at 8:46 am

    “Vegina”….affirmative action at it’s finest. It defines the peter principle; an unqualified person will rise to the level of their incompetence.

    • OEA

      July 19, 2019 at 4:34 pm

      She was endorsed by Rick Scott, you know, the frormer Republican governor of Florida.

  • South Florida

    July 19, 2019 at 10:12 am

    Hawkins was a horrible State Attorney. Thanks a lot Senator Scott for appointing such incompetence on your way out as Governor.

  • JP Jones

    July 19, 2019 at 3:48 pm

    That fits the statutory definition of battery under s. 784.03 which is a first degree misdemeanor. Why was she not charged? I guarantee you that if any of us commoners had put our hands around someone’s neck in that fashion we would have been charged. Why does the law not apply to the judge? Just another example of the two tiered system of justice in this county. Not only should she be removed from the bench but she should be charged with battery as well. I will not hold my breath though.

  • Casual Observer

    July 21, 2019 at 1:39 pm

    Doubtless, she was not charged with battery or with any other crime because of her race. Presumably, it would be said that she was being “treated differently” because of it. No, folks, it would because stupidity knows no bounds and she proved it.

    “Vegina”-baby, find another line of work–preferably one that does not involve public contact, much less the interpretation of the law. Both are way beyond your ability and comprehension.

Comments are closed.


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