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Judge apologizes in court after his arrest on marijuana charge

The Florida jurist cuts a deal, but his career may be up in smoke.

May 08, 2007|Jon Burstein | South Florida Sun-Sentinel

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. — A Broward County judge apologized in court Monday for smoking marijuana in a park. He cut a deal on his misdemeanor drug case, but his judicial career is in jeopardy.

Circuit Judge Lawrence Korda soon could face tough questions -- such as where he got the marijuana or how often he has used the illegal drug -- from the state's judicial watchdog. The Judicial Qualifications Commission could recommend that the Florida Supreme Court remove the veteran judge from the bench.

Korda's March arrest gained national attention. Just three weeks earlier, he had briefly handled part of the paternity battle over Anna Nicole Smith's daughter.

The misdemeanor charge, possession of marijuana, will be dismissed in November if Korda stays clean during six months of random drug testing and performs 25 hours of community service. He already finished a drug and alcohol awareness course that was part of the agreement reached with the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office, which Gov. Charlie Crist specially assigned to prosecute the case.

If Korda fails a drug test, he will have to face the charge and possible jail time.

Korda's deal is typical for a first-time offender on a marijuana possession charge, according to local defense attorneys. It is called a deferred prosecution agreement, with the judge making no findings and the case being resolved without a formal plea.

A judge for 28 1/2 years, Korda apologized to his colleagues across the state for any embarrassment he caused the judiciary.

"I would like to take this opportunity to publicly apologize and accept responsibility for my actions and poor judgment in Stanley Goldman Park on the afternoon of March 18, 2007," Korda said in a statement. "As a result of this incident, I have exposed myself and my family to embarrassment."

Three police officers said they caught Korda smoking a marijuana cigarette under a tree. Korda was ticketed, only disclosing he was a judge when asked his profession, according to Hollywood police.

A police report indicated Korda was near about 15 children when he was ticketed. Michael Dutko, Korda's attorney, said Monday that the children were at least 75 feet away and they were not aware of or affected by the judge's conduct.

Korda, 59, left the North Regional Courthouse in Deerfield Beach followed by five parents angry with his rulings as a family court judge. They yelled that he should be going to jail and removed from the bench. Korda didn't acknowledge the parents.

The Fort Lauderdale chapter of the NAACP filed a complaint with the Judicial Qualifications Commission, calling for Korda's removal from the bench. The commission hasn't formally filed charges against the judge.

Korda said he would remain on a voluntary leave of absence until the commission reviewed his conduct. It is a paid leave.

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