Broward judge violated rules by advertising Democratic endorsement, commission says

A Broward County judge who publicly disclosed his party affiliation and advertised a political endorsement during his non-partisan campaign violated Florida’s Code of Judicial Conduct and should be publicly reprimanded, according to an investigative panel tasked with assessing complaints of misconduct made against state judges.

During a Jan. 25 hearing before the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission, Judge Ernest Kollra of the 17th Judicial Circuit “admitted to committing misconduct during his 2018 judicial re-election campaign.”

He was appointed in 2016 by then-Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican.

The commission’s investigative body found probable cause for two violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct, determining that Kollra had “improperly introduced partisan politics into the non-partisan judicial campaign” by disclosing his Republican Party affiliation to the editorial board of the South Florida Sun Sentinel in May 2018 and by announcing a Democratic endorsement during a candidate forum the following June.

The commission filed its findings and recommendation with the Florida Supreme Court on Friday. The high court can schedule oral arguments in the case before determining whether the commission’s recommendations are legally correct.

Canon 7D of the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct largely prohibits incumbent judges from participating in political activity. Canon 7C(3) prohibits any judicial candidate from commenting on political affiliations and stipulates that such a candidate “must avoid conduct that suggests or appears to suggest support of or opposition to a political party.”

“In spite of his being new to the bench, and new to elections, it is incumbent upon [Kollra] to follow the Canons,” the commission wrote in its findings and recommendations filed online Friday. “The Commission believes that a public reprimand of Judge Kollra will be sufficient to deter similar misconduct by the Respondent in the future, and will also serve as a reminder to future candidates for judicial office that they must protect the integrity of non-partisan judicial elections by refraining from using or advertising partisan endorsements.”

Requests for comment made to Kollra’s office were not immediately returned.