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Judicial Panel Judges Behavior of Unorthodox Jurist

April 23, 1987

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) _ A judge who favors sportcoats to judicial robes and is accused among other things of flirting with women in court, has been called before a state commission to explain his behavior.

Opening arguments began Wednesday in the Judicial Qualifications Commission’s hearing to evaluate the professional conduct of Orange-Osceola Circuit Judge Joe Baker.

The 51-year-old judge also is accused of taking an unauthorized 10-week trip to China, roaming during hearings, talking to jurors in the hallways, taking pictures during trials and sitting in his darkened office for long periods.

Baker has failed to maintain ″proper decorum″ and ″follows a separate standard of judicial conduct,″ said attorney Terrance Bostic, who is acting as prosecutor before the 13-member commission.

Baker’s defense lawyers, Keith R. Mitnik and John Robertson, told the panel their client’s only crime was that he had different ″philosophical views″ from other judges.

″There is no evidence that he has ever done anything dishonest. ... It all involves a difference in philosophy,″ said Mitnik.

Baker is expected to testify later in the hearing, which could last several days.

The commission can recommend to the Florida Supreme Court that charges be dropped or that Baker be reprimanded or dismissed from the bench.

George Diamantis, chief judge of the Orange-Osceola circuit, said from the witness stand that Baker had been absent for 10 weeks on a trip to China after Diamantis and then-Chief Justice Joseph Boyd of the Florida Supreme Court had refused to authorize the lengthy absence.

Mitnik said Baker will admit that ″he did not handle that well″ but added that his client had broken a leg in China, was hospitalized and could not travel for part of the time.

Diamantis also said that in 1985, Baker had hired as a judicial assistant a woman who was awaiting trial on five felony charges, including embezzlement from former employers and forgery.

When he found out, Diamantis told Baker to fire her and Baker did so. Later, however, Baker said he would go against the chief judge’s wishes and hire the woman after she got out of jail, according to Diamantis. The woman was not rehired.

Miami lawyer J.B. Spence said in sworn testimony taken in March that Baker is called ″Crazy Joe″ by many attorneys because of his behavior in court.

Robertson has dismissed Spence’s allegations as the revenge of a lawyer who lost a big case in Baker’s courtroom. Last July, Baker overturned a $2.15 million jury award to a client of Spence, citing lack of evidence and jury tampering.

The allegations of flirting with women in his court were made earlier by attorneys and witnesses.

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