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Miami judge removes himself from obstruction of justice case

Posted on September 25, 2009 3:00 AM EST

A Miami-Dade County judge took himself off a case which stems from a sexual assault which allegedly occurred at a Miami High School back in 2006. The Miami-Dade County State Attorney's Office charged the principal of a Miami-Dade High School for his involvement in the cover up of the sexual assault. The Miami criminal defense lawyer representing Dwight Bernard attempted to gain enrollment into the pre-trial intervention program. Miami prosecutors filed a motion to recuse Circuit Court Judge Julio Jimenez after he urged the Miami-Dade County State Attorney's Office to offer the defendant the program.

The pre-trial intervention program is offered to first-time offenders. If the defendant complies with all the conditions set forth by the prosecution, the charges will be dropped within a six month time frame. The catch is that only the prosecution, and not the judge can offer the program to a defendant. After the defendant completes the program and the charges are dismissed, the defendant can seek an expungement of his record.

Bernard is currently charged with two counts of official misconduct. Jimenez intervened in the case when the Miami-Dade County State Attorney's Office extended a plea offer that included probation and to forfeit his school employment. Bernard's criminal lawyer told reporters that his client would not accept a plea because that would require him to lie under oath. Prosecutors from the Miami-Dade County State Attorney's Office filed a motion to recuse citing that Judge Jimenez said that he was concerned that a plea would cause Bernard to have an "undue cloud hanging over his head." Prosecutors also alleged that Judge Jimenez said that a "not guilty verdict was likely."

With this ammunition in hand, prosecutors filed a motion to recuse setting forth their belief that the State of Florida could not receive a fair trial or sentencing in the event Bernard was convicted after a jury trial. Jimenez defended his actions by stating the following, "I was trying to resolve the case in the best interests of the minor child, the defendant...the football team of the high school, and the community." He also claimed that he was asked to send the letter and then stabbed in the back. The case is a prime example of why many of the Miami-Dade County Circuit Court judges will not become involved in plea negotiations. It is the actions of the state attorney's office that makes every Miami criminal defense attorney's job more difficult in resolving cases for their clients.

Judge in Northwestern Principal Case Recuses Himself, The Miami Herald, September 25, 2009.