Let's set the scene here. Omar Loureiro was the defendant in a first-degree capital murder case. He was accused of near-decapitation of a man he met in a bar, though he claimed that he was fending off an unwanted sexual advance.
Presiding over the trial was the Honorable Judge Ana Gardiner, the first female Hispanic judge in Florida. Appearing before her, on behalf of the State of Florida was then-Assistant State Attorney Howard Scheinberg. The jury convicted Loureiro and recommended the death penalty, which Gardiner imposed.
Meanwhile, it turns out best-friends Gardiner and Scheinberg were LOL'ing via text messages, phone calls, and possibly even dinner dates, all while the first-degree murder trial was wrapping up. The Sun-Sentinel refers to their relationship as a "friendship" and notes that the two helped each other through relationship issues and the deaths of family members.
You don't have to be familiar with Florida's version of the Rules of Professional Conduct to know that ex parte communications with the judge are improper, especially when those communications take place via 949 cell phone calls and 471 text messages over thirty-one days. The chats began four days before the verdict was handed down by the jury and continued through the imposition of the death penalty on August 24, 2007.
Those numbers are per the Florida Supreme Court's opinion, handed down last week. One would imagine that 29.7 phone calls and 14.7 texts per day would be impossible, especially considering the parties' day jobs in the legal profession (murder trials tend to be a bit of a schedule-filler), but even if those are typos, even one ex parte call is too many.
The Sun-Sentinel also reports that Gardiner and Scheinberg were spotted having dinner, and laughing about the Loureiro case, by another prosecutor while the trial was ongoing.
A referee recommended one-year suspensions for both Gardiner and Scheinberg. Scheinberg appealed, and may regret that decision, as the Florida Supreme Court not only affirmed the referee's findings, but doubled his suspension to two years, even while noting that the phone and text conversations were personal in nature and had nothing to do with the Loureiro case.
As for his dear friend, the former-Judge Gardiner, she is facing disciplinary action from the Florida Bar after resigning her judgeship, and could face an even more severe penalty than Scheinberg, as she was found guilty in separate proceedings of lying about the extent of their relationship to the Judicial Qualifications Committee, reports the Sun-Sentinel.
If you're curious about Mr. Loureiro, he was granted a retrial, and despite another guilty verdict, was sentenced to life in prison instead of death in July 2010.
- The Florida Bar v. Howard Michael Scheinberg (Supreme Court of Florida)
- Law Student Embezzled Over $30k For Drugs and Alcohol (FindLaw's Greedy Associates)
- Is There Still No Shame in Judge Wade McCree's Game? (FindLaw's Greedy Associates)