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January 30, 2013

Local judge accused of misconduct

State commission to review accusations by landowner

Live Oak — The Florida Bar’s Third Judicial Circuit Grievance Committee has found probable cause to support a landowner’s accusations of misconduct and conflict of interest against Circuit Judge Andrew J. Decker III of Live Oak.


The finding resulted from an eight-month investigation by the committee into Decker’s handling of a real estate foreclosure case as a private attorney and before he was elected a judge last November.


The complaint against Decker now goes before the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission, the agency that reviews ethics charges against state judges and can take disciplinary action if it finds fault. 


The misconduct and conflict accusations were made last spring by Daniel A. Dukes of Union County, a partner in the B.W.D Land Trust represented by Decker in foreclosure negotiations with TD Bank. Other trust partners were Circuit Judge Paul S. Bryan of Lake City, and William E. Woodington of Union County.


Among other things, Dukes accused Decker of conspiring with Judge Bryan to transfer Duke’s one-third ownership of the foreclosed property to the judge, then withdrew as Duke’s attorney and later represented the judge in a bankruptcy filing.


He also accused Decker of representing clients before Judge Bryan without disclosing to the opposing side that Decker had served as the judge’s lawyer in other legal proceedings.


The Grievance Committee, which serves as a grand jury for complaints against Florida lawyers, found there was probable cause that Decker violated four of the Florida Bar’s rules on misconduct and conflict of interest.


“I strongly disagree with the committee’s decision and note that a finding of probable cause is not, however, a determination that any rule was actually violated but only that further proceedings will be conducted,” said Decker.


Even though the accusations against Decker occurred when he was a private attorney and not a judge, a spokeswoman for the Florida Bar said the Grievance Committee’s probable cause findings were submitted to the Judicial Qualifications Commission because Decker is now a judge.


“Any disciplinary matters regarding him are now in the jurisdiction of the Judicial Qualifications Commission,” said Karen Kirksey, the Florida Bar’s public information officer.


But it was disclosed that the commission found “no warrant” for similar misconduct allegations by Dukes against Judge Bryan.


Dukes filed his Florida Bar complaint against Decker on April 12, 2012, a month after he was granted a motion to withdraw as counsel for Dukes and Woodington in the bank
foreclosure lawsuit. The Third Judicial Circuit Grievance Committee issued its probable cause findings on Dec. 17, 2012.

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