Saturday, December 8, 2007

Reprimand urged for Broward Circuit Judge Cheryl Alemán

Broward Circuit Judge Cheryl Alemán is accused of unprofessional courtroom conduct and of unfairly holding, or threatening to hold, lawyers in contempt of court.

Alemán calls her hearing 'educational'
By Tonya Alanez

South Florida Sun-Sentinel

December 7, 2007
The attorney for the state agency that polices judicial conduct said Thursday that Broward Circuit Judge Cheryl Alemán deserves a public reprimand for breaching her professional duty to be patient, dignified and courteous.

"This is a judge who doesn't have the ability to see what others see," Lansing Scriven, counsel for the Judicial Qualifications Commission, said in his closing argument on the third and final day of Alemán's judicial misconduct hearing. Yet Scriven said Alemán was capable of turning her behavior around.

The commission had charged Alemán, 49, with improperly threatening to hold attorneys in contempt and refusing to step down from caseswhere she had an acrimonious relationship with the defense attorney.

Alemán's inability to assess her own conduct called for the reprimand, Scriven told the commission's six-person panel.

The panel will issue a written recommendation to the Florida Supreme Court in days or weeks. The final decision on punishment, as severe as removal from the bench, lies with that court.

Two Broward circuit judges testified Thursday that judges should use contempt powers as a matter of last resort.

During Alemán's first death-penalty trial, defense attorneys sought to remove her from the case during jury selection. Alemán gave the attorneys a pen and pad of paper and a 15-minute time limit to submit their motion in writing. When the attorneys were late, she threatened to hold them in contempt.

Earlier in the week, Alemán testified that she did so on the advice of senior Circuit Judge Ana Gardiner.

In testimony Thursday, Gardiner said she suggested giving the attorneys a pen and paper without knowing it was a death-penalty case. She said she did not, however, suggest the time limit, nor the contempt charge.

In her nine years on the bench, Gardiner said she has never held an attorney in contempt. As a young judge, she said she was taught that exercising contempt powers reflected a deficiency in the judge's ability to control the courtroom.

Circuit Judge Ilona Holmes, who has taught classes on contempt, said Alemán had a legal basis for the contempt charge, but that judges should use contempt powers sparingly, if at all.

Holmes said that in 12 years as a judge, she had only once held an attorney in contempt and that it was "with great reluctance" in an extreme circumstance.

Later in the day, a half dozen defense character witnesses attested to Alemán's strict, but professional, business-like demeanor. She never lost her cool, disparaged or demeaned anybody, they said.

Before closing arguments, Alemán took the stand a final time, maintaining her innocence and saying the hearing had been "an educational experience."

"If I had an opportunity to do things differently, I think I could have really handled some of these issues more artfully," she said.

Tonya Alanez can be reached at or 954-356-4542.

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