BY DARA KAM
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
TALLAHASSEE – A Jacksonville circuit judge accused of making racist and sexist remarks abruptly resigned Monday, a day before a House committee was slated to explore impeachment proceedings.
Judge Mark Hulsey III – who less than a month ago denied making any inappropriate comments – submitted his resignation letter Monday morning to Gov. Rick Scott, saying he was stepping down immediately.
Hulsey, who narrowly won re-election last year in the midst of a high-profile probe by a panel that oversees judges, was accused of saying that Blacks should “get back on a ship and go back to Africa” and referring to women staff attorneys as being “like cheerleaders who talk during the national anthem.”
The 4th Judicial Circuit judge also was accused of referring to a female staff lawyer as a “bitch” and a “c—,” after she complained to the chief judge that Hulsey was overusing staff attorneys.
The Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission in July filed what is known as a “notice of formal charges” against Hulsey in the Supreme Court, which has ultimate authority to discipline judges.
The notice said the commission opened an inquiry after it became aware of a “continuing pattern of misconduct.”
In an amended notice of formal charges filed in December, the panel accused Hulsey of “engaging in bullying, intimidation, ridicule, rude and discourteous behavior, persistent unfair and demeaning criticism,” being “overly demanding,” and of “making inappropriate comments on race and sex.”
Hulsey, 66, was also accused of interfering with the panel’s investigation by allegedly telling his judicial assistant to “tell the truth” and to also say that she did not believe the judge would make any derogatory remarks about women or Blacks.
In a response filed on Dec. 29, Hulsey’s lawyer Michael Tanner denied that the judge made inappropriate comments “as he is not a racist or a sexist and does not conduct himself as such.”
Hulsey also denied saying that “Blacks should get back on a ship” to Africa, comments he allegedly made in 2011, according to the court filings.
“Judge Hulsey cannot recall the specific verbiage of any conversation he may have had in 2011.
However, Judge Hulsey can say with absolute confidence and conviction that he is not a racist, he rejects and does not hold the ideas expressed” in the alleged comments, Tanner wrote.
Tanner did not respond to messages seeking comment Monday.
‘Victory for justice’
Hulsey’s resignation came a day before the House Public Integrity and Ethics Committee was slated to take up its own investigation into the judge, according to House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes.
The committee was scheduled to consider “a report on preliminary findings,” according to the House website. Hulsey’s name does not appear anywhere on the meeting notice.
But, in a telephone interview, Corcoran confirmed that the committee was “going down the path of impeachment.”
Corcoran called Hulsey’s behavior “very egregious” and said it was “disconcerting at best” that the judicial qualifications commission’s process was taking so long; the first notice of formal charges against Hulsey were filed in July, and a trial wasn’t scheduled to take place until June.
“It didn’t take us that long to figure out that the behavior he engaged in was repulsive and yes, it’s a victory for justice,” Corcoran said.
The committee was expected to approve subpoenas requiring Hulsey and other witnesses to testify and was expected to make a recommendation of impeachment, which would have required action from the full House, Corcoran said.
Even before taking over as speaker in November, Corcoran, a lawyer, has been on a crusade to rein in the judiciary. The speaker is endorsing legislation this year that would impose term limits on judges.
But Corcoran said Monday his concerns about the judiciary are separate from Hulsey’s potential impeachment.
“All officeholders – whether you’re a legislator, whether you’re a judge, whether you’re a governor – need to be held to proper standards and fair and just standards of excellence,” Corcoran said.
“And when they refuse to engage in that behavior … then accountability needs to be exacted.”