A Florida prosecutor who engaged in text messages, cell phone calls and dinner dates with the judge presiding over a capital murder trial has been suspended for two years by the Florida Supreme Court. The judge who engaged in the ex parte communications resigned and was later disbarred.
Former Broward County Assistant State Attorney Howard M. Scheinberg received the two-year suspension in June 2013 after appealing from the Florida Bar’s recommendation of a one-year penalty for his inappropriate contact with the judge, which violated Florida’s Rules of Professional Conduct. In imposing the harsher sanction, the Supreme Court cited “the serious nature of his misconduct, and the harm it caused to the administration of justice.” See: Fla. Bar v. Scheinberg, 129 So.3d 315 (Fla. 2013).
Scheinberg had exchanged some 471 text messages and 949 cell phone calls with Broward Circuit Court Judge Ana I. Gardiner, 52, during lengthy proceedings in the 2007 capital murder trial of Omar Loureiro, whom Gardiner sentenced to death.
The state’s first female Hispanic judge, Gardiner was disciplined by the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC), which regulates, investigates and prosecutes Florida judges. A JQC panel found Gardiner had lied during the ensuing investigation and she resigned in 2010.
Beyond their ex parte texts and phone calls during Loureiro’s murder trial, Scheinberg and Gardiner were spotted by another prosecutor, Sheila Alu, having dinner together and allegedly discussing the trial. Gardiner and Scheinberg denied they had spoken about the case.
As a result of their misconduct, Loureiro was granted another trial with a new prosecutor and a different judge. He was subsequently sentenced to life in prison; his conviction was overturned by a state appellate court in October 2013, and the case remanded for yet another trial.
Gardiner was disbarred by the Florida Supreme Court on June 5, 2014 based on her “significant personal and emotional relationship” with Scheinberg during Loureiro’s first trial. She was also ordered to pay $8,117.18 in costs.
“Considering Gardiner’s dishonest conduct and the harm that her actions have caused to the administration of justice in a capital first-degree murder case, we conclude that disbarment is the appropriate sanction,” the Court wrote. See: Fla. Bar v. Gardiner, 2014 Fla. LEXIS 1805 (Fla. June 5, 2014).
(Published by Prison Legal News; used by permission)