A Gentle Slap on the Wrist for Judge Jacqueline Schwartz
Apr. 20, 2016 (Mimesis Law) — According to a CBS Miami article, Miami-Dade County judge Jacqueline Schwartz has gotten herself into a bit of trouble:
The Florida Supreme Court suspended a Miami-Dade County judge after two incidents last month in which she appeared impaired — including an incident in which she had to be removed from the bench and driven home by a bailiff.
On Tuesday, an order handed down suspended Judge Jacqueline Schwartz with pay, according to the Supreme Court’s website.
Given that she has been involved in not one, but two incidents where she was apparently impaired, it would seem that Schwartz might have a substance abuse problem. This also isn’t the first discipline she’s faced:
The allegations against Schwartz came four months after she was disciplined by the Supreme Court for a 2014 incident in which she was accused of using profanity and threatening to sue a convenience-store owner who had declined to allow her to display a campaign sign at the store.
It isn’t that unusual for a judge, or anyone in the legal profession, for that matter, to have issues with drugs or alcohol. It also isn’t that unusual for it to occasionally lead to unbecoming behavior. Schwartz seems to take it to a different level, however, both with the 2014 incident and one of her more recent incidents:
In the new case, an investigative panel of the state Judicial Qualifications Commission said Schwartz was observed “acting in an irrational and disorderly manner” on March 18 at a Coconut Grove restaurant. One of the documents said Schwartz “was observed to be impaired, spilling a glass of wine on herself, and pouring water on the floor of the restaurant while attempting to refill a water glass. Patrons, and staff also observed Schwartz to be unsteady on her feet, swaying, stumbling, slurring her words, and (having) twitching eyes.
When the restaurant staff decided that they should no longer provide wine to Schwartz, she became upset, and began yelling and swearing at the wait-staff in full view of the restaurant guests.”
That Schwartz would swear at and threaten a store owner for not letting her promote herself is more than just an example of an impaired person behaving badly. When taken in light of the fact that Schwartz also yelled at and swore at wait staff for not letting her become even more intoxicated than she already was, it seems that the problem with Schwartz isn’t just impairment, but temperament. The story of an impaired judge being taken off the bench and driven home by a bailiff is just the attention-grabbing start of the article. The meat of the situation is what Schwartz did while impaired those other times.
Exhibiting petulance when denied something is certainly not among the more desirable character traits for a judge to have. That applies just the same whether the judge is three sheets to the wind or stone cold sober. The same is true of a short fuse in general. There should be no place on the bench for individuals who cannot remain calm, collected, and thoughtful in the face of conflict.
If the lawyers who appear in front of Schwartz are worth anything, they’ll no doubt challenge her at some point. No judge is perfect. Furthermore, even if she’s right, and even if it’s not a close call, she’s sure to see some zealous advocacy that’ll push her buttons. She should control herself. She should set aside her temper and do her job.
Following that last incident, she apparently knew she made a mistake, though it didn’t seem to change anything:
Schwartz reported the incident to the Judicial Qualifications Commission on March 21. But a week later, the investigative panel said, Schwartz appeared impaired while presiding over a criminal traffic docket. The chief judge became involved and sent her home, with the assistance of a bailiff who drove Schwartz’s car.
It’s hard to know just from reading one article, but it seems an awful lot like Schwartz is exhibiting the exact same pattern of behavior as a lot of defendants. While impaired, Schwartz is a lit fuse. Afterwards, she’s remorseful. Unlikely most defendants, whose remorse only leads to statements that eventually help the state crucify them, Schwartz’s remorse seems to have resulted in multiple chances and a salary while suspended. Of course, she might have gotten that stuff whether she felt bad or not given her position of power.
Also like most defendants, she explained why she messed up:
During a hearing, Schwartz attributed her conduct to a prescription medication she had started taking, according to the documents.
In a perfect world, if she returns to the bench, Schwartz will see a little bit of herself in every defendant. She won’t see excuses, but reasons. She’ll remember the person she was while impaired and strive to remain the better person she is while sober, all with the understanding her inevitable relapses aren’t a product of malice or disregard for previous sanctions, but a sign of the power of addiction. She would look awfully hypocritical, after all, if she threw the book at others given the treatment she received:
The Supreme Court has the ultimate authority to discipline judges. In December, Schwartz received a public reprimand from the Supreme Court, which also imposed a $10,000 fine on the judge and suspended her from the bench for 30 days.
However, that’s apparently a harsh punishment for a judge:
“We view this as the only way we can assure the public that misconduct, such as yours, will be taken very seriously,” Labarga said during Schwartz’s December reprimand.
If Schwartz returns to the bench, hopefully she’ll remember how it feels to be on the receiving end of discipline. Hopefully she’ll fix her problems without life-ruining punishment and allow others to do the same.
Had Schwartz just been escorted off the bench due to impairment, I’d be a lot more optimistic. Lots of people have substance abuse problems. Not a lot of impaired individuals act the way Schwartz did.
If it’s just the drugs or alcohol causing her behavior, then more power to Schwartz if she can address the underlying problem. If it’s just her real personality coming out due to her inhibitions being relaxed chemically, however, then her issues should be fatal to her judicial career. I’d take a kindly drunk judge over a sober, ill-tempered tyrant any day.