Judge Decker faces possible removal from office

The Judicial Qualifications Committee (JQC) filed charges in 2014 against third Judicial Circuit Judge Andrew J. Decker regarding misconduct and several violations of judicial canons while practicing law in foreclosed cases and while running for election in Nov. 2012. Earlier in this year, the courts found him guilty of four violations of the state’s code of conduct regarding judges and judicial candidates. Originally, the courts planned to distribute a penalty of having Judge Decker face a 90-day suspension without pay. However, the judicial hearing panel ordered him in November to demonstrate why they shouldn’t enforce a harsher penalty on Decker, not excluding his removal from office. And in response, he sent back a 67-page document to the Florida Supreme Court on Tuesday, Dec 8. According to the JQC, Decker lied on a televised debate when asked if he had ever failed to disclose conflict of interest; replying that he had not, Decker claimed falsely as a complaint had already been filed for that exact matter, and he referenced in a letter the day before the debate, according to court documents. “It was a mistake. It was something I deeply regret,” Decker testified. His defenses argue the claim, saying that it was a slip-up mistake made in the heat of the moment around being on a live televised camera. Rather than a calculated act, as was seen frequently in his campaign, it was a factual misstatement made in error as could be expected in the course of a political debate rather than in the mood of an open discussion. Decker is found guilty for failing to disclose a conflict of interest, but his defense argues that claim is not well supported by evidence. Along with the false statement and failure to disclose, Decker is being charged with inappropriate political activity, as he made an appearance at a Republican rally in Mayo and expressed a statement on his views regarding the pro-life debate, both while still running for office. However, Decker and his defense argued that only in a narrow set of circumstances can a judicial candidate’s freedom of speech rights be restricted, as previous cases have established. “A person does not surrender his constitutional rights to freedom of speech when he becomes a candidate for judicial office,” the court document states, quoting a previous case. Decker and his defense attempted to argue that the panel’s job is to assess whether the judge before them is presently fit to stay in his/her judicial office, and that Decker’s good performance as a judge is very relevant to their decision. Decker is being represented by Tampa-based lawyer, Scott Tozian, who stated that he believes that the evidence that came out at the hearing and the filing speak for themselves, and that Decker should keep his position, as that would be the just ruling.

Andrew Decker