Broward Judge Vegina “Gina” Hawkins Faces Suspension After Grabbing Employee by the Neck
Originally Published; 19 July 2019 | Republished by LIT; October 7, 2020
The Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission (FJQC) has recommended immediate suspension of Broward County Circuit Judge Vegina “Gina” Hawkins after a video captured her placing her hands around a court employee’s neck.
Hawkins, a former prosecutor, was appointed to the family division by Gov. Rick Scott in November. However, since early June, the FJQC has been investigating a complaint filed against her. While the probe continued, Hawkins was reassigned to the foreclosure division. The FJQC concluded its investigation July 18.
“At the July 12, 2019 hearing, the Investigative Panel of the Commission took testimony from the judge, reviewed affidavits and other evidence, and determined that probable cause exists to believe that Judge Hawkins violated the Code of Judicial Conduct,” the recommendation says. “The panel also determined that the commission should recommend Judge Hawkins be immediately suspended without compensation, pending final disposition of this matter.”
According to the FJQC recommendation, which was reported by Broward Beat and JAABlog, on June 11, Judge Hawkins was seen on a security camera grabbing a court employee by the neck after she was told her afternoon docket was not ready.
“After being informed that the papers would be provided to her shortly, Judge Hawkins sought out the employee who was working in another judge’s courtroom,” the report says. “Entering the courtroom through a secure hallway, Judge Hawkins motioned for the employee to come outside into the hallway. As the employee walked through the doorway, Judge Hawkins placed her hands around his neck and shook him back and forth.”
Despite seeing the video footage herself, Judge Hawkins in her self-report told the commission she never touched the employee, the two were “fairly friendly,” and “described her actions as engaging in ‘jest.'” However, the FJQC found her characterization to be misleading, causing the panel to be concerned by her misrepresentation.
“[Hawkins’ statement] is clearly refuted by the security video, which Judge Hawkins watched prior to submitting her self-report. The employee did not describe the judge’s demeanor that morning as friendly or joking, but ‘extremely upset,'” the commission wrote. “Another employee who interacted with Judge Hawkins shortly after the incident says Judge Hawkins remarked about the encounter and demonstrated what she did by making a choking motion in the air.”
Eventually, Hawkins admitted to the panel she “touched and shook the employee.” But when members asked her why she failed to say that in the self-report, the judge said that “when she watched the video prior to writing the self-report, it was ‘grainy,’ she was crying, and she didn’t remember putting her hands on the person.”
Ultimately, the investigative panel found Hawkins’ behavior to be “wholly inappropriate” and recommended immediate suspension without pay.
“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 filing says. “It is all the more inappropriate, and potentially criminal, when such conduct is motivated by anger or to emphasize displeasure.”
Now, Judge Hawkins’ fate lies with the Florida Supreme Court, which in the coming months will make a decision regarding her behavior.
Just a day after the FJQC issued its recommendation, the Florida Supreme Court suspended Hawkins without pay on Friday, July 19.
Questionnaire: incumbent Judge Vegina “Gina” Hawkins, candidate for Broward Circuit Court, Group 50
Meanwhile, “Suspended” Judge Gina Hawkins is still running for re-election
as at June 16, 2020 per Sun Sentinel article
Vegina “Gina” Hawkins
Married (26 yrs); 3 children (2 adults)
Please tell us about your education and where you obtained your degrees:
Florida State University, B.S., Communications 1995
Nova Southeastern, Sheppard Broad Law School JD, 2004
How long have you practiced law in Florida?
Have you practiced anywhere else? If so, where and for how long?
Please outline your work history for the past 15 years
Office of the State Attorney 2013-2018
Law Office of Vegina Hawkins, LLC 2011-2013
Law Office of David Stern, PA 2009-2011
Office of the State Attorney 2008-2009
Rozier and Mildenberger, PA 2007-2008
Office of the State Attorney 2005-2007
As a lawyer or judge, what types of cases have you typically handled?
(Lawyer) Criminal, Family, Foreclosure, Contract, Probate
(Judge) Civil Family and Foreclosure
If you are a judge, how many jury trials have you presided over that resulted in a verdict and judgment? Please attach copies of trial statistics for the last five years or for other years if you have not served in a division that conducted jury trials (i.e. family, juvenile, dependency and probate.)
I have not presided over any jury trials as a Judge. I have presided over approximately 15-20 trials in Family Court. I am unable to attach trial statistics.
Have you ever been arrested, charged or convicted of a crime? Have you ever received a withheld adjudication of guilt or had a matter sealed or expunged? If so, please explain.
Have you ever been a plaintiff or defendant in a civil action, including bankruptcy or foreclosure? Have you ever had a restraining order issued against you? If so, please explain.
Yes. My husband and I filed as plaintiffs against our homeowner’s insurance due to water damage we experienced in our home. I have never had a restraining order filed against me.
Have you ever had any complaints or grievances filed against you? Have you ever been disciplined by the Florida Bar or the bar of any other state? If so, please explain:
I am currently the subject of a pending case with the JQC.
Are you a member of any civic groups? If so, please name:
Have you been involved in any organizations or causes outside the courtroom in the past five years? If so, please tell us about them:
I am a mentor with Fathers M.I.A., and organization that caters to bridging the gap between children and their fathers. I am also a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc , a service sorority founded on principles of Sisterhood, Service, and Scholarship. I am a member of Gwen S, Cherry, an organization for Women in Law, and TJ Reddick, another Legal Organizations for minorities.
Have you ever taught law at a college or university? Have you taught law through legal programs or seminars?
I have never taught law at a college or university. However, I have been a panelist or workshop leader at legal seminars.
Why are you running for this office?
I was appointed in November of 2018, and it is my desire to continue to serve the citizens of Broward County as a member of the judiciary._ I hope to maintain diversity among the members of the judiciary, providing a balanced and competent bench that reflects the community we serve.
Have you previously run for office? If so, when and for which office?
What in your experience has best prepared you to be a judge?
I believe that it is my legal experience, my diverse work experience, my upbringing in this County, and my community involvement that has best prepared and continues to prepare me as a judge.
Which current or former judge do you most admire and why?
I admire many of my colleagues for several reasons. However, the strength, tenacity, and brilliance of former Judge Ilona Holmes; and the resilience, balance, and fortitude of Judge Raag Singhal both bear mentioning.
What are the three biggest challenges facing our justice system in Broward County, Florida or the nation?
I believe that the three biggest challenges facing our Justice system in Broward County and the nation are: Consistency, Accessibility, and Flexibility.
Assuming that the coronavirus or similar illnesses become more commonplace, what changes would you suggest be made in the court system to protect the rights of the public and the rights of defendants?
The fundamental right provided by the judicial system to the general public and defendants is the right access to the court. Being faced with a pandemic, it introduces a necessity and comfort that must be considered for all, and that is the right to safety. I believe the continued and broader use of technology both administratively and procedurally will assist continued access to the Courts, as well as limiting the necessity to be physically present, thereby limiting the massive daily contact.
Have you been endorsed by any other group? If so, which one(s)?
Yes. Broward County Police Benevolent Association and South Florida Letter Carriers Assoc. #1071
Why should voters choose you over your opponent(s)?
I have proven to be a dependable, hardworking, compassionate judge that renders fair, unbiased rulings in a timely, respectful, and kind manner. I offer a diverse, yet balanced work experience, coupled with a common-sense approach to the judiciary that only comes from upbringing and personal connection to the community I serve.
How much money have you raised? Please include today’s date:
$2650 (this does not include loans, or in-kind contributions)
Senior US District Federal Judge Kenneth ‘Ken’ Marra and the Lyin’ Lawyers from https://t.co/T7RLHkNQUz conspired to deny intervention and withheld evidence from the elder Burkes. Every citizen should stand up or your liberties and property will be taken. https://t.co/zgSYSSU69r pic.twitter.com/NxUzXV9LTj
— LawsInTexas (@lawsintexasusa) September 30, 2020
BEFORE THE JUDICIAL QUALIFICATIONS COMMISSION STATE OF FLORIDA
INQUIRY CONCERNING JUDGE,
VEGINA T. HAWKINS, NO. 19-351.
ORDER SCHEDULING FINAL HEARING
Following a status conference with counsel, the Final Hearing before the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission (FJQC) Hearing Panel is scheduled to commence at 8:30 A.M., Tuesday, December 8, 2020, at the Broward County Courthouse, located at 201 S.E. 6th Street, Fort Lauderdale, Florida at a courtroom to be announced.
The members of the Hearing Panel are: (1) Hon. Kevin Emas, Esquire (Chair); (2) Hon. Jonathan D. Gerber (ad hoc); (3) John P. Cardillo, Esq. (ad hoc); (4) William Schifino, Esq.; (5) Harry Duncanson (lay member); and (6) Abigail MacIver (lay member).
A final status conference before the Chair is hereby set for October 27, 2020 at 9:00 m., to address any outstanding motions or issues requiring resolution. The call in number is 1-888-585-9008, Access Conference Code: 600-228-117#.
Exhibit books – The parties shall jointly prepare exhibit books and provide 7 copies to Counsel for the Hearing Panel on or before December 8, 2020 at 8:00 a.m. The exhibit books shall include an index listing each exhibit.
Any subpoenas previously issued by the parties for a final hearing are hereby validated and remain in effect for the December 8 & 9, 2020 final hearing.
So ordered this 5th day of October, 2020.
FLORIDA JUDICIAL QUALIFICATIONS COMMISSION
By: /s/ Kevin Emas Honorable Kevin Emas
FJQC HEARING PANEL CHAIR,
Third District Court of Appeal
2001 S.W. 117th Avenue
Miami, FL 33175
Copies furnished in accordance with the attached list:
Alexander J. Williams, General Counsel
FLORIDA JUDICIAL QUALIFICATIONS COMMISSION
P.O. Box 14106
Tallahassee, FL 32317
David Bogenschutz, Esquire
David Bogenschutz & Associates, P.A.
633 S.E. 3rd Avenue, Suite 202
Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33301 Tel: (954) 764-2500
Henry M. Coxe, III, Special Counsel
FLORIDA JUDICIAL QUALIFICATIONS COMMISSION
Brian T. Coughlin, Esq.
Bedell, Dittmar, DeVault, Pillans & Coxe, P.A.
101 East Adams Street
Jacksonville, FL 32202
Lauri Waldman Ross, Esquire
COUNSEL TO THE HEARING PANEL OF THE FLORIDA JUDICIAL QUALIFICATIONS COMMISSION
ROSS & GIRTEN
9130 S. Dadeland Blvd.,
Miami, Florida 33156