Live Oak —
Third Judicial Circuit Judge Andrew J. Decker III’s attorneys filed an answer to formal charges filed against him in February by the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC).
The JQC filed seven formal charges against Decker for several alleged violations of judicial canon and misconduct prior to being elected judge in November 2012.
The first count states that Decker participated in a televised debate on July 31, 2012, and stated that as a lawyer he never had been accused of having a conflict of interest or representing more than one side in a civil case. The JQC stated that was “a false statement.” The JQC states Decker violated canons 7A(3)(b) and 7A(3)(e)(ii).
Decker admitted in his response filed April 3, the allegations were factual but states the “imposition of any discipline is subject to the constitutional limitations regarding factual misstatements made in the course of a judicial election and political debate.”
Decker is charged with stating many times on the campaign trail he is a “committed Christian” which articulates a pledge or promise of future conduct that violates canons 1, 2A, 7A(3)(a), 7A(3)(e)(i) and 3B(5).
Decker states that throughout the campaign for judge, he asked the voters to evaluate his candidacy on the basis of four factors: his faith, family, service to the legal profession and commitment to the community.
“(Decker’s) statements regarding his Christian identity are an expression of his values, not a promise or commitment to rule in a particular manner or to favor one group over another,” the response stated.
The response states Decker’s statements of faith are “indistinguishable” from other statements by state and federal judges in the United States, including that of a current Circuit Judge William H. Pryor Jr., of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, who has written about his Catholic faith being the “foundation of my worldview”, among other statements.
The response states that Decker’s statements of faith are protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution concerning freedom of speech and of religion.