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Judicial disciplinary case against a Hillsborough County circuit judge ratchets up

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Describing a subpoena as "irrelevant, improper and harassing," an appeals-court judge is seeking to be shielded from testifying in a disciplinary case against a Hillsborough County circuit judge over a bruising election campaign.

Describing a subpoena as "irrelevant, improper and harassing," an appeals-court judge is seeking to be shielded from testifying in a disciplinary case against a Hillsborough County circuit judge over a bruising election campaign.

Describing a subpoena as “irrelevant, improper, and harassing,” an appeals-court judge is seeking to be shielded from testifying in a disciplinary case against a Hillsborough County circuit judge over a bruising election campaign.

Jared Smith, a judge on the 6th District Court of Appeal, filed a motion Monday asking the state Judicial Qualifications Commission to quash a subpoena issued by attorneys for Circuit Judge Nancy Jacobs.

The commission is pursuing a disciplinary case against Jacobs, who in a 2022 election defeated Smith, who was then a Hillsborough County circuit judge. Gov. Ron DeSantis subsequently appointed Smith to the appeals court.

An investigative panel of the commission in September alleged that Jacobs made “inappropriate and disparaging” remarks about Smith during the election and improperly injected partisan politics into the campaign. But Jacobs has also accused Smith of acting improperly during the campaign.

In the motion Monday seeking to quash the subpoena, Smith’s attorneys wrote that his “conduct and/or testimony is irrelevant to the issues in this proceeding.”

“Indeed, Judge Jacobs is on trial for her conduct — not Judge Smith — and Judge Smith should not be forced to prepare for and attend a deposition, taking him away from his important public duties, that can elicit no relevant, admissible evidence but rather amounts to nothing more than harassment, annoyance, embarrassment, and undue burden,” Smith’s attorneys, who include former Florida Supreme Court Justice Alan Lawson, wrote.

But in a document filed Jan. 16, attorneys for Jacobs wrote that Smith’s actions during the campaign are “relevant to this proceeding.” They also said a judicial canon allowed Jacobs to respond to campaign attacks.

"... Judge Smith should not be forced to prepare for and attend a deposition, taking him away from his important public duties, that can elicit no relevant, admissible evidence but rather amounts to nothing more than harassment, annoyance, embarrassment, and undue burden."
Motion by attorneys for Jared Smith

Among other things, Jacobs’ attorney cited a video of a July 2022 appearance by Smith and his wife at a Baptist church in Lutz. The Jan. 16 document said Smith stood by his wife as she made statements attacking Jacobs.

“Thus, in this case, Judge Jacobs could respond to the attacks of Judge Smith and it was reasonable for Judge Jacobs to represent the position of Judge Smith based upon the words and actions that he and his wife took in a widely reported-on video,” Jacobs’ attorneys wrote.

The Judicial Qualifications Commission has authority to investigate alleged wrongdoing against judges and make recommendations to the Florida Supreme Court, which has ultimate disciplinary power. While such cases happen relatively often, the Jacobs case has been more fiercely litigated than most.

The 2022 elections played out after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the decades-old Roe v. Wade abortion-rights ruling, and abortion became an issue in the race between Jacobs and Smith.

In what is known as a notice of formal charges, the investigative panel of the Judicial Qualifications Commission in September said Jacobs’ campaign social-media sites included inappropriate statements about Smith’s positions on abortion issues and that she made disparaging remarks such as saying Smith couldn’t be fair and impartial because of his religious beliefs.

Also, the notice said Jacobs inappropriately touted her support from a Planned Parenthood PAC and that her campaign inappropriately advertised an endorsement from the group Indivisible Action Tampa Bay. The notice described Indivisible Action Tampa Bay as an “expressly partisan organization.”

Judicial races are supposed to be non-partisan in Florida.

In responding to the allegations, Jacobs has acknowledged some improper actions but denied other accusations. Among other things, Jacobs also has alleged that Smith’s wife made statements that were anti-Semitic, according to documents posted on the Supreme Court website. Jacobs is Jewish.

In the motion filed Monday, Smith’s attorneys wrote that “an objective party viewing the comments in context will conclude that the comments were not anti-Semitic.”

Jim Saunders is the Executive Editor of The News Service Of Florida.