The seven high court justices voted unanimously to toughen the
penalty recommended by a hearing officer, who had called for a
one-year suspension of Judge Ana Gardiner.
The high court said such an ethical lapse in a capital case that
later resulted in a death sentence being reduced to life in prison,
and her initial efforts to downplay her involvement with assistant
state attorney Howard Scheinberg, required her disbarment.
The court said Gardiner had a chance meeting with Scheinberg at a
restaurant during the murder trial of Omar Loureiro in 2007, and
they joined some others at a bar after dinner.
Between March 23, several days before a jury returned a guilty
verdict against Loureiro, and Aug. 24, when she sentenced him to
death, the court said Gardiner and Scheinberg exchanged 949 cell
phone calls and 471 text messages.
When the Judicial Qualifications Commission began an investigation
in late 2008, the court said Gardiner "failed to disclose the honest
and true nature of her relationship with Scheinberg."
It was not until the following April, when the Broward state
attorney was investigating, that Gardiner "acknowledged for the
first time her ongoing emotional relationship with Scheinberg."
She resigned from the bench in 2010, after 11 years as a judge. The
Supreme Court suspended Scheinberg from practice for two years.
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After the relationship between judge and prosecutor became known,
Loureiro got a new trial and was sentenced to life in prison.
"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 action," said the Supreme Court order.
The court also ordered her to pay $8,117.18 in costs.
(Editing by Kevin Gray and Sandra Maler)
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