A Florida county judge is facing a two-month unpaid suspension for unprofessional conduct toward defendants in proceedings before his court.
Seminole County Judge Wayne Culver provided sworn testimony before a May 3 Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission investigative panel. Culver admitted his actions in a January 25 case were “undignified, impatient and discourteous.” He further admitted the same unprofessional conduct in a February 10 case.
In the January case, an in-custody criminal defendant acting as his own lawyer interrupted the judge. While the female petitioner in a domestic case was testifying, the pro se defendant disputed her testimony, interjecting, “That’s not correct, sir!”
Culver admonished him to not interrupt either the petitioner or the court.
The irritated judge told the defendant to listen carefully because the judge’s remarks to follow would be “the most important words you’ll ever hear as long as you live as a (sic) organism on this planet.”
“Every time you interrupt her, or any time you interrupt me – and you’re not even letting me finish my sentence,” the judge continued, “every time you do it, I’m going to hold you in contempt and I’m gonna give you 179 days in jail,” according to the commission’s report.
“And every time you do it, I’m gonna add a consecutive six-month sentence,” he snapped, warning him further:
“You keep on interrupting us, you’re going to have to have the jail renamed after you.”
Afterwards, when it was the defendant’s turn to present evidence to support his case and make legal arguments, the judge cut him off. “I’m a patient person but I’ve reached the end of my patience,” Culver told the defendant. “I don’t believe anything you’re telling me. I’m sorry.”
Then, the judge ended the hearing and ruled in favor of the petitioner without letting the self-represented defendant enter any evidence or make any statements. He then informed the defendant he was being held in direct criminal contempt of the court.
No notice was given to the defendant by the judge allowing him to provide evidence or make arguments about why he should not be held in contempt. Nor did the Suffolk University School of Law graduate inform the defendant he had the right to file an appeal within 30 days.
Also, Culver failed to make a required written judgement of guilt with specific factual findings, which is required by Florida statute.
Finally, the petulant judge made good on his threat during the hearing to impose the contempt charges consecutively. He unlawfully stacked three contempt sentences for a total of 537 days, according to the judicial review commission.
He caught himself before his unlawful acts were entered into official court minutes and ordered the three sentences to run concurrently, which reduced the defendant’s jail time for the contempt charges to 179 days.
In another case, on February 10, he cursed at defendant Kevin Newton as he was standing in the gallery. The commission said the judge believed Newton was disrupting his proceedings.
“Sir, I’m doing something,” Culver said to Newton. “Can you shut up and sit down?”
The defendant, whose trial was scheduled for later in the day, agreed, saying he was just looking for a seat.
“That’s not shutting up,” the judge responded. “You want to be held in contempt and go to jail?”
The judge apparently did not hear Newton respond to his question and cursed at him:
“I asked you a f—ing question, a–hole,” Culver exclaimed.
After he informed the judge he did not want to go to jail, he was told to shut up by the judge who later apologized for using profanity towards him.
Florida’s Supreme Court has the agreement between Culver and the Commission before them, which they may or may not accept. If the state’s high court signs off on the negotiated agreement, Culver will be sentenced to two months of unpaid suspension.
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