TALLAHASSEE, Fla-- The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday ordered a 30-day suspension without pay and a public reprimand for a St. Lucie County judge who was involved in a long-running battle with a local attorney.
Justices approved a recommendation from the Judicial Qualifications Commission, which investigated Judge Philip Yacucci because of his actions involving attorney Stephen Smith.
Among other things, Yacucci in 2014 found Smith in contempt of court and had him jailed for five days.
Smith ran against Yacucci in a 2014 election that the Supreme Court described as "highly combative."
The campaign included an altercation between the two men outside a polling place. After the election, Yacucci said he would recuse himself from Smith's cases but in September 2016 refused a request for recusal, according to the Supreme Court.
"Judge Yacucci's conduct warrants a sanction harsher than a mere public reprimand, as his longstanding combative relationship with Smith created legitimate fears of partiality and bias on the part of several litigants before his court," said the Supreme Court's majority opinion shared fully by Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and justices Charles Canady, Ricky Polston and Alan Lawson. "The acrimonious relationship between Judge Yacucci and Smith, marked by lawsuits, a public altercation and televised disparagement, the jailing of Smith for contempt, judicial campaign disputes, unsolicited attempts to influence a petition for writ of prohibition, and multiple refusals to disqualify himself, clearly displayed Judge Yacucci's disregard for proper judicial conduct."
Justice R. Fred Lewis concurred with the result but did not sign on to the majority opinion.
Justices Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince agreed that Yacucci violated the judicial code of conduct but said he should be suspended for at least 90 days. "Judge Yacucci's cumulative misconduct in this case diminished the public's perception of the judiciary and, by engaging in this conduct, Judge Yacucci failed to uphold the integrity and independence of the judicial office," Pariente wrote in an opinion joined by Quince.
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