Judge resigned one day before impeachment was to be recommended to Florida House committee

Mark Hulsey denies allegations in complaint that prompted judicial hearing

By Jim Piggott - Reporter , Lynnsey Gardner - Investigative reporter , News4Jax.com Staff

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Duval County Circuit Judge Mark Hulsey III resigned from office Monday, one day before the Florida Legislature was to hold a hearing on accusations of him making racist and sexist remarks to his staff.

Hulsey, who was also facing a June judicial hearing before the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission, submitted his letter of resignation to Gov. Rick Scott. 

Hulsey, 66, was accused of saying that blacks should "get back on a ship and go back to Africa" and referring to women staff attorneys as being "like cheerleaders who talk during the national anthem." The 4th Judicial Circuit judge was also accused of referring to a female staff lawyer as a "bitch" and a "c---," after she complained to the chief judge that Hulsey was overusing staff attorneys.

According to documents News4Jax obtained from the Florida House of Representatives, investigators were prepared to testify Tuesday that Husley failed to make arguments at hearings and was unprepared for criminal cases, including a death-penalty trial. Based on interviews, investigators said they had evidence showing the Hulsey had committed misdemeanors, including nonfeasance, malfeasance and failure to maintain a professional environment free from abuse.

The investigator wrote he was prepared "to recommend consideration of articles of impeachment at the committee's earliest convenience."

In his resignation letter, Hulsey did not make reference to the accusations against him, saying:

Since my re-election in 2016, my assigned duties have been to assist other Fourth Circuit judges. Accordingly, the immediate effect of my resignation will not prevent the discharge of judicial work for the citizens. ... It has been an honor and privilege to serve the people of the State of Florida."

DOCUMENT: Mark Hulsey's letter to Gov. Rick Scott

Gerald Wilkerson, an attorney who lost to Hulsey last fall by only 753 votes, feels he should be considered for the position, but it will be up to the governor to appoint someone to fill the seat until the 2018 election cycle.

"The only thing I can say is, I feel like he owed the people (who) voted for him better than that," Wilkerson said. "And I feel like the people of the circuit have not been able to choose another judge, and now it's going to go through the political process, and I don't feel that's right."

Rhonda Peoples-Waters is one of a group of black attorneys who backed Hulsey when the allegations about his racist comments first came out last year. While the judge hasn't made any public remarks, she talked to him after the resignation.

"He just expressed, I guess, his remorse that he has somewhat let us down, but he felt that it something he needed to do. We expressed to him that we understood," Peoples-Waters said.

She said she never observed any behavior in court that supported the claims his staff made.

"There was not any evidence that I saw, practicing before him for years with black and white clients, of him being a racist," Peoples-Waters said.

Fourth Judicial Circuit Presiding Judge Mark Mahon also received a copy of Hulsey’s resignation letter. He said he was aware of the Florida House’s independent investigation, and his only comment was that he had “mixed emotions” about Hulsey's resignation.

A local pastor who pushed for the probe said it was time for Hulsey to go.

“Well, my first reaction was wow, but then I know he saw the handwriting on the wall,” Pastor Fred Newbill said. “And because of not only disparaging things he said and other things at the courthouse, but actually during his election, he crossed the line in some areas.”

A five-day evidentiary hearing on formal charges that were filed last summer by the commission against Hulsey was first slated for February, but was pushed back twice. Since the complaint, Hulsey was moved from the criminal court bench, but stayed on the job and was re-elected to a six-year term in August by a margin so narrow, a recount was conducted.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O' Lakes said Monday he was pleased but not surprised that Hulsey resigned.

“I don't think someone like that should be on the bench,” Corcoran said. “It's a disservice to the people that we represent.”

Corcoran said the Judicial Qualifications Commission's investigation was taking too long.

"That file was opened on Judge Hulsey in the summer and the trial wasn't scheduled until this summer. That's a year," Corcoran said. "That's another year this man sits on the bench."

That was also a concern for Newbill, and he's convinced other judges need to take notice.

"We need to double check our judicial bench," Newbill said. "We need to make sure they are people who are fair, they are people who have been elected and do what they're elected to do and that is judge fairly."

In November, the commission filed an amended notice of formal charges against Hulsey, who was removed from the criminal bench after he was accused of making racist and sexist remarks, acting in a demeaning and condescending manner toward his staff and being unnecessarily critical of lawyers in the state attorney’s office.

The amended filing by the commission informs Hulsey that because of “indifference to your judicial duties,” staff attorneys are wasting their time on “routine and mundane judicial acts,” thus limiting their availability to other judges.

The commission said Hulsey forces staff to take care of his personal affairs, and to take work home.

The complaint also accuses Hulsey of trying to coerce one of his staffers into telling the commission that he would never make derogatory remarks about African-Americans or women.

Hulsey has denied the allegations and filed an amended response, affirming that denial.

In the response, his lawyer said, “Hulsey can say with absolute confidence and conviction that he is not a racist, he rejects and does not hold the ideas expressed ... and he denies making the statement alleged.”

Hulsey repeatedly apologized in his amended response for misunderstandings over his actions and comments, admitted he made mistakes and insisted he is not indifferent to his judicial duties.

Corcoran said he's confident Hulsey was guilty of the charges and would have been impeached if it had gone that far.

Newbill said voters are losing their voice as the governor will likely appoint the replacement.

“So now what do we have? He's resigned, everybody's saying fine, but it's not fine, because now what happens is, the governor makes a choice rather than the people make a choice,” Newbill said.

News4Jax has contacted the governor's office for comment, but we have not heard back yet.

 

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.

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