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Jax Daily Record Friday, Jun. 10, 201612:00 PM EST

Osceola County circuit judge faces suspension for using old endorsement

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An Osceola County circuit judge who used a 20-year-old newspaper endorsement — for a state House race — in her campaign for the judicial position should be suspended for three months and receive a public reprimand, a hearing panel recommended Thursday.

Circuit Judge Kim Shepard, who served in the state House in the 1990s, received the Orlando Sentinel’s endorsement in 1994 for a legislative race.

But in a 2014 judicial race, the newspaper endorsed Shepard’s opponent, Norberto Katz, whom Shepard defeated.

By deleting the date of the endorsement and all references to the House race, Shepard made it appear she had been endorsed by the Sentinel in the judicial race, “which was patently untrue,” a hearing panel of the state Judicial Qualifications Commission decided.

“Voters, often unable to discern the differences between judicial candidates, rely on local editorial boards to steer them in the right direction,” the commission’s 24-page report said.

“Active and intentional manipulation of those endorsements represents both a strategic understanding of how important those endorsements are, and a willingness to mislead for personal gain. The hearing panel finds Judge Shepard’s behavior in this respect to be offensive, and disturbing,” the report continued.

Shepard, who has had five different lawyers since being advised of the charges against her last year, denied wrongdoing and also challenged the constitutionality of some of the court’s rules governing judges.

“Integrity and character are not qualities that customarily evaporate with the passage of time,” Shepard’s attorney wrote in one filing. “There is no indication that the respondent’s integrity or character underwent a fundamental transformation in the intervening years since being recognized and praised by the Orlando Sentinel.”

While the commission makes recommendations regarding judicial sanctions, the Supreme Court has the final say in the matter.

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