Florida Judge Ana Gardiner was disbarred over a hidden relationship with then-assistant state attorney Howard Scheinberg. Because of the relationship, a capital case that had resulted in a death sentence was retried and reduced to life in prison.
Gardiner was the presiding judge and Scheinberg was the prosecuting attorney in the 2007 murder trial of Omar Loureiro. Reuters reported that for a five month period during which the jury found Loureiro guilty and Gardiner sentenced him to death, there was an ongoing relationship between the two. After a brief encounter at a bar with colleagues, the Gardiner and Scheinberg exchanged 949 cell phone calls and 471 text messages. When the relationship between judge and prosecutor became known, Loureiro got a new trial and was sentenced to life in prison.
The ABA Journal reported that the Florida Supreme Court said Gardiner’s testimony in 2008 before a Judicial Qualifications Commission panel “failed to disclose the honest and true nature of her relationship with Scheinberg.” That resulted in a reprimand for the public social interaction between Gardiner and Scheinberg one night at a restaurant during the murder trial, the court noted. Gardiner had avoided a judicial ethics case by quitting from the bench in 2010. She had served for eleven years.
Later 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 Gardiner. According to Reuters the high court said such an ethical lapse in a capital case and her efforts to downplay her relationship with Scheinberg required her disbarment. Scheinberg is serving a two-year suspension of his law license.
At Gardiner’s trial, she testified, “Nothing has interfered with my job because that has been my life.” “We weren’t talking about the case. We were talking about personal matters,” she said.
According to ABC News, the Florida Supreme Court pronounced that Gardiner’s failure to disclose the relationship “tainted the entire legal process.” “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 over $8,000 in costs.