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Reprimand set for North Florida judge

Scaff held telephonic bond hearings without giving notice.

The state Supreme Court on Sept. 8 will issue a public reprimand to a North Florida judge after an investigation found that he had repeated contact with family members of people who were arrested and held bond hearings by telephone.

The Supreme Court issued an order Thursday accepting an agreement reached by Hamilton County Judge Kenneth “Sonny” Scaff Jr. and the state Judicial Qualifications Commission.

Scaff, the only full-time judge in the rural county, acknowledged he was involved in what are known as “ex-parte communications” with relatives of people who had been arrested, according to documents posted on the Supreme Court website.

Scaff also admitted that he held telephonic bond hearings without providing notice to the offices of the state attorney and public defender, victims, private lawyers or, in some cases, people who were arrested.

“Judge Scaff has expressed great remorse and regrets that his failure to conduct first appearance hearings in accordance with the applicable rules of procedure and statutory law and his participation in ex-parte communications eroded the public confidence in the impartiality and integrity of the judiciary,” Thursday’s Supreme Court order said.

“Judge Scaff has since taken steps to ensure that such conduct is never again repeated, including locking the exterior door to his chambers to eliminate the ability of litigants or others to enter his office to attempt to speak with him about their cases; placing signage around the courthouse explaining that he is not permitted to speak with ‘any person about any court case;’ setting a fixed time for conducting first appearances; and engaging with the chief judge of the circuit who will mentor and advise Judge Scaff as to issues that might arise while presiding over cases in such a small jurisdiction.”

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