54ºF

Judge Hulsey denies racism, sexism allegations

Circuit judge asks for investigation into who leaked accusations

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Three weeks after a state investigative panel accused him of making racist and sexist remarks, a Jacksonville circuit judge is flatly denying the accusations of inappropriate conduct.

An attorney for Circuit Judge Mark Hulsey filed a six-page response late Monday in the Florida Supreme Court rejecting allegations that Hulsey said blacks should "get back on a ship and go back to Africa" and that he referred to women staff attorneys as being "like cheerleaders who talk during the national anthem."

The document Monday said the accusations "do not allege that Judge Hulsey failed to properly adjudicate the cases in his division or that any litigant before Judge Hulsey was prejudiced in any way. Judge Hulsey further states that the allegations wrongly imply that he harbors ill-will toward female attorneys or African Americans."

It also disputed allegations that Hulsey referred to a female staff lawyer as a "bitch" and a "c---," after she complained to the chief judge that Hulsey was overusing staff attorneys.

"Judge Hulsey states that he treats all persons with whom he comes in contact as a judicial officer with proper courtesy and respect," the document said.

READ: Judge Hulsey's 'answer to formal charges'

The response also took issue with an accusation that Hulsey "exploited" a former judicial assistant by making her feel as if she had to handle personal tasks for him, such as paying personal bills.

"Judge Hulsey denies exploiting his former judicial assistant or making her feel compelled to perform personal tasks for him," said the response filed by Jacksonville attorney Michael Tanner. "Judge Hulsey admits that on two occasions in 2011, his former judicial assistant volunteered to, and did, drive Judge Hulsey's wife to a medical appointment. She offered to do so because Judge Hulsey's former judicial assistant used the same physician as Judge Hulsey's wife and told Judge Hulsey she was happy to do so because that would allow him to avoid time away from the courthouse. Judge Hulsey denies that his former judicial assistant advised him that any task which she had expressly volunteered to do burdened her or created an unhealthy working environment."

The Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission on July 19 filed what is known as a "notice of formal charges" against Hulsey in the Supreme Court, which has ultimate authority to discipline judges. The notice said the commission opened an inquiry this year after it became aware of a "continuing pattern of misconduct."

Hulsey is running for re-election in the 4th Judicial Circuit, which is made up of Duval, Clay and Nassau counties and will appear on the Aug. 30 primary ballot. He issued a statement last month denying the allegations, but the document filed Monday in the Supreme Court was the first detailed public response.

Rhonda Peoples Waters is one of a group of lawyers that is standing behind Hulsey.

"Of course I support and agree with Judge Hulsey's responses, nd agree he treats all persons fairly when they come in his courtroom, because that evidenced by what we've seen," Peoples Waters said Tuesday.

The questions about Hulsey's conduct have spilled over into a death-penalty case that he handled. A lawyer for Death Row inmate Terrance Phillips, who is black, asked the Supreme Court to order an investigation into the allegations of racism against Hulsey, who in 2012 sentenced Phillips to death for a double murder in Jacksonville on Christmas Eve 2009.

"The integrity of the judicial system as it operated in Judge Hulsey's courtroom is at issue. And the public is entitled to prompt resolution of the matter so that it will know if justice free from racial prejudice was administered, and if not when will it be," Phillips' attorney, Martin McClain, wrote in a document filed in the Supreme Court.

Hulsey's response also requested a separate investigation into the source of the breach of confidentiality of the qualifications commission's investigation that resulted in rumors and knowledge of the investigation before the formal notice of charges.

A group of ministers who made the accusations in June said they plan to protest at the courthouse next week if Hulsey does not resign.

Pastor Fred Newbill, a member of that group, isn't buying the judge's denials.

"My true reaction is, he is saying everyone is fighting against him. He's in denial," Newbill said.

Hulsey was reassigned to probate court while the qualifications commission inquiry continues.

News4Jax has asked Hulsey to discuss the case, but have not heard from him.

News Service of Florida contributed to this report.


About the Authors: