Circuit Judge Vegina T. “Gina” Hawkins, who sits on the civil bench in Fort Lauderdale, had been charged Thursday with “inappropriate conduct” under the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct.
She added: “There is no way I would ever place my hands on him or anyone else in an effort to offend or harm them.”
A JQC filing addressed to Hawkins – who’s been a judge for only eight months – explained that the “genesis of the (June 11) 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.”
Hawkins disagreed: “No amount of paperwork would cause me to be upset to the point of verbally or physically offending another.”
The JQC investigates misconduct accusations against judges. It will file its final findings and recommendation for discipline with the Supreme Court, according to its website.
The court itself decides whether to schedule oral argument and accept briefs in the case. Possible forms of punishment can be no discipline, a public reprimand, a fine, suspension from office, or removal from office.
A video released Friday, recorded by a courthouse surveillance camera, shows Hawkins at the far end of what appears to be a private hallway. (The video has no sound.) She lets the worker in through a locked door.
Hawkins immediately places both hands on either side of the employee’s neck, gives a quick shake, then lets him go.
The remainder of the interaction shows what the JQC described as “a brief, but intense, discussion,” with Hawkins gesturing vigorously at the worker.
That man, in his own statement, called Hawkins “wide-eyed and extremely upset” during the brief encounter, saying she “put both hands around my neck and shook me,” though she did not “squeeze on my neck with any pressure.”
“I am still in shock,” he said, “and never expected any of this to happen … I hope this will never happen again to myself or anyone else for that matter.”
A JQC investigative panel previously said it was “concerned by Judge Hawkins’ inability to understand that even in jest, her conduct was wholly inappropriate,” according to its suspension recommendation.
“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.”
The video is below (Hawkins first appears about 30 seconds in). The docket for the case is here.