Former Florida Circuit Judge Faces Disciplinary Action Over Tampa Bay Tickets
On June 22, 2018, a referee’s report was returned regarding former Florida circuit court judge John Lakin and his use of baseball tickets that had been gifted to him by counsel while their motion was pending in his court.
While presiding over a personal injury case in 2015, Lakin returned a defense verdict. The next day, Lakin was offered Tampa Bay Rays tickets from plaintiff’s counsel, whose firm was known to regularly give such tickets out within the legal community. Lakin accepted. About a week later, plaintiff’s counsel filed for a new trial, and the day before he granted the motion, Lakin reached out to plaintiff’s counsel to request additional tickets. He did so twice more over the course of several months. In October 2015, following his disclosure of his conduct at a status conference, Lakin recused himself from the case. Formal charges were filed against Lakin in February 2016, and in March of that year, Lakin resigned as a circuit court judge.
Several judges and attorneys provided testimony attesting to Lakin’s character and commitment to the bench, reflecting that apart from this string of improprieties, he was well-respected within the legal community. While the report noted that there was no evidence of “actual injury or prejudice”, it honed in on the notion that Lakin’s conduct damaged “the public’s perception of the justice system and the impartiality of judges.” The report further provided that by failing to disclose his acceptance of the tickets to defense counsel, he deprived them of the opportunity to object to his presiding over the motion for a new trial.
The referee reported that Lakin was a “veteran attorney who knew or should have known that receiving a gift of any value from counsel while counsels’ motion was pending before him would create an appearance of being influenced by the gift.” As such, the recommendation for disciplinary action was a 90-day suspension and admonishment in the form of a practice and professionalism enhancement program. It also included a requirement for Lakin to discuss his actions and their repercussions with newly minted judges.