A Broward judge has been removed from hearing criminal cases, after he was caught on camera promising to double the bond of a defendant accused of a crime near the judge’s home.
Senior Judge Joel Lazarus retired in 2010 but returned to the bench part time. He was presiding Jan. 19 over first appearance court, where defendants go within a day of their arrests to find out whether they will need to post bond to get out of jail while awaiting trial.
“I double the bond of those that take place in my neighborhood,” Lazarus told a prosecutor after looking over one arrest report. “The closer to my house, the higher the bond. That was always Lazarus’ rule.”
Lazarus appeared to be joking — he said nothing else about the case, and the Public Defender’s Office found no indication of a case with a higher-than-typical bond.
First appearance court is streamed live over the internet on sunsentinel.com. The Public Defender’s Office complained after a video clip of Lazarus’ comment was posted on the courthouse news and gossip site JAABlog.
The clip was originally posted to the SouthFloridaCorruption.com website and YouTube account. The owner did not disclose his or her name.
Public Defender Howard Finkelstein said the comment was no laughing matter — no defense lawyer was in the courtoom at the time, and it was inappropriate for the judge to say anything about any case, even in jest.
“It’s not funny,” he said. “It’s not humorous. People saw that a judge in a flippant way was making an important decision in an inappropriate manner.”
Finkelstein complained to Chief Administrative Judge Jack Tuter, who confirmed in an e-mail to the South Florida Sun Sentinel that “Judge Lazarus will no longer be assigned to handle any criminal cases.”
Lazarus, 75, said he hadn’t dealt with criminal cases in about four years before Jan. 19 — or since. Most of his work in Broward has been overseeing foreclosure proceedings.
He was appointed to the county court bench in 1993 and held onto the seat through several election cycles.
One of his most prominent cases as a judge was the murder trial of Lionel Tate, who was 12 when he was accused of killing 6-year-old playmate Tiffany Eunick in 1999 and 14 when Lazarus sentenced him to life in prison. An appeals court overturned the conviction, and Tate was released after a plea deal, but he went back in front of Lazarus in 2006 when he was accused of robbing a pizza delivery man.
Tate is now serving a 30-year sentence.
In a brief telephone interview Thursday, Lazarus said he wasn’t going to comment about the cases he was reviewing Jan. 19. “I did not raise anybody’s bond that day,” he said.
Senior judges like Lazarus are retired and paid $375 to work various assignments. They are approved and accountable to a committee chaired by a judge on the 4th District Court of Appeal, Tuter said.
On the video, after the judge makes the comment about “Lazarus’ rule,” prosecutor Eric Linder’s voice can be heard agreeing with the judge. “I have no problem with that formula,” he said. “You know what they say — location, location, location.”
Linder was counseled against making inappropriate comments by his office’s chief deputy, Jeff Marcus, according to the State Attorney’s Office.