Palm Beach County Judge Marni Bryson says the recent charges of her taking too much time off for years are entirely unwarranted, especially considering today’s pandemic standards of working from home.
The 46-year-old jurist and single mom contends she worked plenty of hours remotely, while also doing the job on the bench and in her courthouse chambers.
“The physical location of a judge says nothing about how much work he or she is doing, or whether the judge is fully devoted to his or her judicial duties,” Bryson’s lawyers wrote in a pleading filed Monday.
They fought back this week against five allegations lodged last month by the state Judicial Qualifications Commission, the watchdog over misconduct by judges. The charges say Bryson failed “to devote full time and attention” to her responsibilities from 2016 to 2019, as well as not notifying the chief judge about her absences over the same period.
Documents show that the matter is shaping up as a battle between Bryson and her boss, Palm Beach County Chief Circuit Judge Krista Marx.
Bryson’s legal team says Marx “did not request to see the records of Judge Bryson’s leave, which she kept.”
Bryson’s defenders wrote that they will be seeking to discredit Marx, because her “credibility is in dispute and at issue” in the case.
Marx has told the South Florida Sun Sentinel she is not permitted to comment on a pending case.
The charges — which were not specific as to actual missed time — will next be considered by a hearing panel with two judges, two lawyers and two citizens. But Bryson on Monday also made a push to disqualify the selected panel.
She claims she won’t get a fair and impartial hearing because some of the members, including the chair, have “close personal and professional relationships” with Marx.
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Bryson says she has a “reasonable fear” that the panel chair, Mayanne Downs, will protect her “close friend” Marx and find Bryson in violation. Downs is the city attorney for Orlando and a former president of The Florida Bar.
The panel is responsible for making any disciplinary recommendations to the Florida Supreme Court, which has the final say over punishments that can range from a public reprimand to removal.
Bryson, meanwhile, continues in her assignment to the civil division at the South County Courthouse in Delray Beach.
Defense attorneys Scott Richardson and Andrew C. Lourie argue that Bryson is the target of a “selective prosecution,” considering there’s no rule that requires the physical presence of a judge inside the courthouse between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.
“Even a judge located in his or her courthouse office is not guaranteed to be working on judicial matters,” the lawyers wrote. “The number of cases resolved and tried (as well as additional volunteer work for colleagues, on night duty and on commissions) is the only data that should reflect the amount of work done, not outdated concepts of what it means to ‘go to work.’”