A unanimous Florida Supreme Court on Friday “immediately suspended” a Broward judge without pay and released video showing her momentarily shaking a court employee by the neck last month.
Circuit Judge Vegina T. “Gina” Hawkins, who sits in Fort Lauderdale, had been charged Thursday with “inappropriate conduct” under the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct.
The court also released a June 26 letter from Hawkins to the Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC), in which she says, “I do not believe I ever touched him.”
She added: “There is no way I would ever place my hands on him or anyone else in an effort to offend or harm them.”
A JQC filing addressed to Hawkins explained that the “genesis of the (June 11) conflict with the employee appears to have been your displeasure with the fact that he did not have your 2 p.m. docket available for you that morning.”
Hawkins disagreed: “No amount of paperwork would cause me to be upset to the point of verbally or physically offending another.”
A video released Friday, recorded by a courthouse surveillance camera, shows Hawkins at the far end of what appears to be a private hallway. She lets the worker in through a locked door.
Hawkins immediately places both hands on either side of the employee’s neck, gives a quick shake, then lets him go.
The remainder of the interaction shows what the JQC described as “a brief, but intense, discussion,” with Hawkins gesturing vigorously at the worker.
That man, in his own statement, called Hawkins “wide-eyed and extremely upset” during the brief encounter, saying she “put both hands around my neck and shook me,” though she did not “squeeze on my neck with any pressure.”
“I am still in shock,” he said, “and never expected any of this to happen … I hope this will never happen again to myself or anyone else for that matter.”
Gov. Rick Scott appointed Hawkins to the 17th Circuit Court in November 2018. The Nova Southeastern University law school grad had been an assistant state attorney.
A JQC investigative panel previously said it was “concerned by Judge Hawkins’ inability to understand that even in jest, her conduct was wholly inappropriate,” according to its suspension recommendation.
“Within the judicial branch, as in civilian life, it is never appropriate for a person in a supervisory position to put their hands around the neck of an employee or subordinate and shake them.”
The video is here. The docket for the case is here.
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