On Friday, September 29, 2023, the Judicial Qualifications Commission of Florida filed a notice of hearing panel members for an inquiry concerning Judge Wayne Culver.  The case is entitled “In the Matter of Wayne Culver,” with case no. SC-22-0846.

The charges cited Canons 1, 2, 3B(2), and 3B(4) of the Code of Judicial Conduct.

On June 29, 2022, the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission brought formal charges against Seminole County Judge Wayne Culver. The charges included intemperate conduct and violating the Code of Judicial Conduct. The conduct in question included threatening to use contempt authority against a person in the gallery and making sarcastic comments to a pro-se litigant.

In the findings and recommendation of discipline, it was detailed that in the first incident on January 25, 2022, Judge Culver used sarcasm and mockery when addressing the said pro se litigant, telling him that the court’s words were “the most important words you’ll ever hear as long as you live as an organism on this planet.” The judge also threatened to send the litigant to jail for so long that the litigant would “have to have the jail re-named after [him].”

The JQC determined that Judge Culver’s behavior was inappropriate and violated the Code of Judicial Conduct, as it lacked the dignity and decorum expected of judges. The Commission was also concerned that Judge Culver’s threat of consecutive jail sentences effectively barred the pro se litigant from exercising his right to self-representation.

In the second incident on February 10, 2022, Judge Culver’s behavior was even more concerning. He swore at and threatened a defendant in open court. Judge Culver later entered an order of recusal from the defendant’s criminal case. The JQC found that Judge Culver’s conduct was offensive and inappropriate and that it escalated the disturbance and disruption of the court proceeding instead of de-escalating it.

The findings and recommendations state:

“While the Commission believes that the February 10, 2022 behavior is potentially more serious in terms of damage to the judiciary, the Commission also believes that Judge Culver’s actions on February 10, 2022, coupled with his intemperate and sarcastic comments and failure to comply with the law on January 25, 2022, represent a concerning pattern of failing to uphold the high standards of conduct expected of judges.”

Judge Culver admitted that his conduct in both incidents was wholly inappropriate and violated the Code of Judicial Conduct. He cooperated fully with the JQC’s investigation, accepted full responsibility, and regretted that his actions had cast a negative light on the judiciary and the judicial system.

In light of Judge Culver’s admissions and cooperation, the JQC recommended a public reprimand as the appropriate sanction. The Commission noted that a public reprimand is usually the appropriate sanction for intemperate conduct by judges, as stated in previous cases by the Supreme Court of Florida. However, the JQC also considered the extraordinarily inappropriate nature of Judge Culver’s behavior and the fact that two instances of inappropriate conduct occurred after only a year of being in office. The Commission believed that appropriate intervention was necessary to prevent future occurrences of inappropriate conduct.

Considering these aforementioned matters, the Judicial Qualifications Commission of Florida has announced the designation of hearing panel members for the case concerning Judge Culver. The final hearing will take place before a panel consisting of Gregory W. Coleman, William F. Schifino, Jr., Hon. Mark H. Mahon, Hon. Gary P. Flower, Jonathan Bronitsky, Ph.D. (lay member), and Michelle Montanaro (lay member). Mr. Coleman has been appointed to chair the proceedings.

Judge Culver’s office is located at Seminole Criminal Justice Center Eslinger Way Sanford, FL, and can be reached at (407) 665-4982. His bio can be found on flcourts18.org.

A copy of the original filing can be found here.