MANATEE — Circuit Judge John Lakin is retiring from the bench in the midst of an investigation that he took baseball tickets from a law firm that had a case before him. The Florida Supreme Court suspended him for two years.
The Judicial Qualifications Commission charged Lakin, 55, with misconduct Feb. 1 for requesting and taking Tampa Bay Rays baseball tickets from the Kallins, Little & Delgado law firm while presiding over the case Wittke v. Walmart.
A jury trial ruled in favor of Walmart in June, and Lakin later overturned the decision to the benefit of Wittke, the law firm’s client.
Kallins, Little & Delgado gave Lakin baseball tickets four times while the case was pending, with five tickets coming the day before Lakin overturned the jury decision.
Lakin’s attorney Jack Weiss submitted a letter to Gov. Rick Scott on Monday, saying Lakin would retire effective immediately, according to Lakin’s assistant. She couldn’t comment on whether the retirement was related to the investigation.
Alex Williams, assistant general counsel to the JQC, said the agency typically drops cases against judges who retire, but they retain jurisdiction so the case can be revisited if the individual becomes a judge at a later date.
“Our death penalty of sorts is removal from the bench,” Williams said. “So if that happens through other means we generally don’t pursue it further.”
Lakin wrote in the letter to Scott that he was retiring for “professional and family reasons.”
“It has been the highlight of my 26-year legal career to serve as a circuit court judge over the last three years,” Lakin wrote.
Chief Judge of the 12th Judicial Circuit Charles E. Williams said in a statement that active and senior judges would be handling Lakin’s caseload until his vacancy is filled.
After the governor formally notifies the chair of the 12th circuit Judicial Nominating Commission, Williams said, the JNC will begin advertising, accepting applications, interviewing and sending six recommendations to Scott for the vacancy.
Lakin admitted to taking the tickets, but denied that it affected his decision in the case. A hearing to determine Lakin’s guilt of the charges is scheduled for June.
Lakin was elected to the bench in 2012 and has served on the criminal bench since then. Circuit judges in Florida serve six-year terms. At the time of the alleged offense, Lakin had served on the civil court for six months. Weiss has blamed Lakin’s inexperience for the incident.
Weiss did not return a request for comment.
There is a complaint filed with the Florida Bar against Melton Little, a partner at the involved law firm. The contents of complaints are not available to the public, but this complaint is related to the baseball tickets, a Bar spokeswoman confirmed.
“Anyone can file a complaint, so the Bar is looking into it to see if there is any merit,” said Karen Kirksey, a spokeswoman for the Bar. She said Little is currently a member in good standing with no disciplinary history.
She said punishments for these types of incidents can range anywhere from an admonishment to a disbarment. Little did not return a request for comment.