Ethics

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A hearing panel has dismissed ethics charges against a Florida judge accused of allowing a reality TV show to film domestic violence cases in her courtroom, according to an order filed Tuesday.

After ethics prosecutors presented their case against Judge Carroll Kelly at a Zoom hearing, the hearing panel determined that there wasn’t enough evidence to move forward, report Law.com and Law360.

Kelly is a judge with the 11th Judicial Circuit in Miami-Dade County. The Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission accused Kelly last May of giving litigants little notice that they would be asked to sign waivers to appear in the syndicated show, called Protection Court.

The judicial commission also alleged that litigants who didn’t sign the waivers were nonetheless filmed.

Kelly had argued that her participation in the project was a result of good-faith reliance on ethics opinions from several states, including one that she obtained in Florida. The Florida opinion said filming in court was “a matter of judicial administration, rather than judicial ethics.”

She also said the releases were drafted by the production company and the 11th Judicial Circuit, and she had no role in in their dissemination or collection. Although some litigants who did not sign waivers were filmed, the footage was not included in the TV program, her brief said.

Kelly also argued that the judicial commission had violated a settlement agreement, in which it agreed to drop the case if Kelly would stop participating in the TV show. Kelly accepted the offer, even though “it was her firm belief her participation in the program was proper, of significant value to the community, and not in violation of any canon,” Kelly’s brief said.

Kelly stopped participation, but episodes from previous footage continued to air.

Alex Williams, general counsel for the judicial commission, told Law.com that the dropped case doesn’t mean that judges participating in such projects are in the clear.

“The outcome of this case should not be viewed as approval of participation in commercial reality TV programs like Protection Court,” Williams told Law.com. “That issue was not before the hearing panel.”