Palm Beach County judge faces complaint over campaign ads

The looming summer election season came to life on Friday when supporters of a lawyer who is challenging Palm Beach County Judge Paul Damico announced they had asked a court watchdog group to investigate the longtime jurist. date.

In a complaint filed with the state Judicial Qualifications Commission, a supporter of Boca Raton family law attorney Karen Velez accuses Damico of overstating the support he receives from the legal community and abusing a police union’s endorsement in his campaign materials.

According to Velez campaign consultant Christina Romelus, the allegations violate judicial canons which require judges to be impartial and act with integrity.

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Damico, who has never faced a challenger since being named to the bench by Governor Jeb Bush in 2001, said he was stunned to hear a lawsuit had been filed.

“As a judge, that’s a horrible thought,” Damico said, adding that he had never been investigated by the agency that oversees judges.

“We wouldn’t do that. We wouldn’t go near that,” he said of allegations that he presented himself as pro-law enforcement to draw votes. “We don’t want that to be part of our campaign.”

18 bench judges re-elected unopposed

Damico is the only county court judge to face opposition in the Aug. 23 election.

The distinction had to belong to County Judge Marni Bryson, who was recently disciplined by the Florida Supreme Court for repeatedly failing to show up for work. While Velez had filed paperwork to challenge Bryson, at the last minute she opted to run against Damico instead.

In addition to Bryson, four other justices – John Parnofiello, Sarah Shullman, Melanie Surber and August Bonavita – were automatically sentenced to six-year terms when no one showed up to run against them at the end of a term. one-week qualifier last month.

In the circuit court, 13 judges were also elected unopposed. The only contested race pits Senior Assistant Attorney General Caryn Siperstein against Boynton Beach attorney Alcolya St. Just.

Both women, who lost previous bids for the tour bench, are in the running to replace circuit judge John Kastrenakes.

The former federal prosecutor who was appointed to the bench in 2009 initially filed paperwork seeking re-election. A week later, Kastrenakes stepped down and sent a letter to Chief Justice Glenn Kelley, explaining he would step down when his term ended in January.

Palm Beach County Circuit Judge John Kastrenakes

The complaint alleges that the judge breached the canon of impartiality by citing references

Romelus, a former Boynton Beach city commissioner, said Velez supporters were concerned about Damico’s claims on the campaign’s Facebook pages and in emails soliciting donations.

A Facebook post boasts: “Judge Damico is supported by the men and women who protect us!”

Romelus said the statement and others like it give the impression that Damico will treat police differently from others appearing before him.

“The implication in this statement is also that he is biased…to (non-impartial) law enforcement and that the public can only be protected if Judge Damico is elected,” according to April Boray’s complaint. , a resident of Boca, filed with the JQC.

Damico’s campaign also claims he is backed by the “legal community in Palm Beach County and beyond.” Such a statement falsely suggests that Velez does not enjoy similar support, Boray claims.

Rebecca Shelton, who is Damico’s campaign manager, said the statements do not violate any judicial canon. Still, as a “precautionary measure,” she said she changed some of the statements after learning about the complaint.

“We tweaked our campaign materials to make her feel comfortable,” Shelton said.

Any action taken by the JQC would remain confidential unless it finds probable cause that the canons have been violated.

Romelus said a complaint was also sent to a Palm Beach County Bar Association committee that offers advisory opinions to judicial candidates. It normally responds to complaints within several weeks.

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