JASPER — Hamilton County’s judge will be publicly reprimanded in September by the Supreme Court of Florida.
The court will administer the public reprimand to Kenneth “Sonny” Scaff Jr., the Hamilton County judge, at 9 a.m. Sept. 8, according to a Thursday letter from the court clerk to Scaff.
The reprimand follows an inquiry by the Judicial Qualifications Commission into misconduct by Scaff, which the judge admitted did occur.
According to the JQC in an April 1 formal notice of charges, Scaff held first appearance bond hearings over the phone rather than in person and also met with and discussed cases with family members.
The Commission’s investigation also determined that Scaff had improper conversations with defendants or their families as well as witnesses and others involved in cases that were likely to come before him as the judge.
Scaff had also previously been warned about participating in those improper ex-parte communications.
In its recommendation of the public reprimand, the Commission said that providing notice and allowing participation in the bond hearings “is critical to maintaining the public’s perception of fairness in the judicial process” in addition to being required.
Likewise, the Commission said the ex-parte communications also can erode faith in the judicial system.
After receiving the notice of allegations and prior to his hearing on the matter, the Commission said Scaff implemented new procedures and safeguards to make sure they don’t happen again.
Among those are locking his chambers to prevent the public from entering and having those discussions. He also has placed signs around the courthouse to alert the public that he can’t have those communications with “any person about any court case.” Scaff also wrote letters to law enforcement agencies alerting them that he is not allowed to discuss cases.
The judge has also set a fixed time to conduct first appearance hearings and alerted the State Attorney and Public Defender’s offices of those times and that they may attend.
The Commission noted Scaff has also committed to discuss issues with the Chief Judge of the Third Circuit, Mark Feagle, who will serve as a mentor and advisor.