Judge faces discipline for trying to sway candidate

“This, we cannot condone.”

A Citrus County circuit judge could face a public reprimand from the Florida Supreme Court after an investigation into his attempt to dissuade an attorney from running against a fellow judge in this year’s elections.

An investigative panel of the state Judicial Qualifications Commission on Tuesday recommended discipline for Circuit Judge Richard Howard. In a filing at the Supreme Court, the panel said Howard last year tried to dissuade attorney Pamela Vergara from running against Circuit Judge George Angeliadis.

Howard and Angeliadis are judges in the 5th Judicial Circuit, with Angeliadis hearing cases in Hernando County, according to the circuit website.

Among other things, Howard tried to convince Vergara to run instead against Circuit Judge Mary Hatcher, who hears cases in Marion County, another part of the circuit, the panel found.

The recommendation said Vergara ultimately “did not switch or abandon her candidacy; however, she remains concerned about the potential repercussions of her decision to disregard what she perceived as the clear wishes” of Howard.

The panel said Howard’s conduct violated judicial canons and that he has entered into an agreement, known as a stipulation, that acknowledges he acted inappropriately.

“He not only attempted to dissuade a judicial candidate to abandon her campaign against one incumbent judge, he then subsequently attempted to persuade the candidate to run against a different judge,” the panel said. “This, we cannot condone.”

The panel recommended that the Supreme Court, which has the ultimate authority to discipline judges, issue a public reprimand of Howard.

Vergara and Angeliadis are running for the judicial seat in November, according to the state Division of Elections website.


Republished with permission of The News Service of Florida.

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