Judge Karen: This Turkey is no Expert

Judge Karen Mills-Francis had her shaken at by Jose Baez because she does not know the law.

In honor of the Thanksgiving holiday, I thought I would take this time to talk turkey with you.

You see, I received a lot of heat for my criticism of he who I shall not mention by name anymore, but I was most surprised by the opinions of other experts used to prove I was wrong. And when pressed, the only other expert they referred to was none other than “Judge” Karen Mills-Francis.

As most of my unfaithful readers probably know by now, Jose Baez made a stop during his whirlwind media tour on ISSUES with Jane Velez-Mitchell to discuss his Motion in Limine to Introduce Prior Bad Acts of … Roy M. Kronk.

As guest “experts,” Jane also had Florida prosecutor Stacy Honowitz and Judge Karen to act as counterpoints to Mr. Baez (a law student would have sufficed).

And while Ms. Honowitz was about as enlightening as a rock, Judge Karen provided the opinion that has been re-posted as black letter law in every chat room on the Internet.

Here is the relevant exchange from the show’s transcript:

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Judge Karen Mills Francis, you`re the judge. Do you think the judge in this case will let this evidence, this evidence that the defense says it has collected, in involving Roy Kronk?

JUDGE KAREN MILLS FRANCIS, HOST, “JUDGE KAREN SHOW”: Well, you know, I`ve been pretty hard on Mr. Baez throughout this whole process. I was a criminal defense attorney for 13 years before I was a judge. I looked at his motion. It`s called a motion in limine. In Florida, a motion in limine is to exclude evidence but his motion is asking the court to allow evidence. There is no such motion in Florida.

Additionally, he`s asking the court to allow evidence of what`s known as prior bad acts. In Florida, it`s called the Williams rule. That`s a prosecution motion. The prosecution can bring in evidence of the defendant`s prior bad acts to show motive, intent, lack of mistake.

I have never heard of a defense attorney filing a Williams rule motion to show prior bad acts of a witness. But let`s say for the sake of argument it`s a legitimate motion. Under the Williams rule, he has to be able to show that there`s sufficient elements in the prior bad acts that fit with the elements in this case, and I don`t think he has that here.

He`s got…

VELEZ-MITCHELL: I got to tell you that Jose Baez is shaking his head, but he doesn`t really want to respond. But he`s shaking his head.

Before I go any further, I would like to focus on the very last part – JOSE BAEZ WAS SHAKING HIS HEAD.

Let me tell you something, I don’t have a lot of requirements in life, just the basics like food, water, and a decent place to sleep. But I am making the following addition to those requirements:

If Jose Baez ever shakes his head at me in disagreement I better be 100% correct.

Jose Baez shook his head.

As I have explained at various places before, a Motion in Limine is not just a motion to EXCLUDE evidence. Rather a Motion in Limine is a motion to determine the admissibility of evidence – meaning whether evidence will be admitted or excluded based upon the Florida Evidence Code.

I even provided a citation to State of Florida v. Oliver, 977 So. 2d 673 (Fla. 5th DCA 2008), a Fifth District Court of Appeals case where it was the State Attorney filing a Motion in Limine to Admit Evidence. And to further hammer the point home, I provided the search results from Google Scholar; which shows over 280 reported cases where such a motion has been filed.

I also pointed out that contrary to Judge Karen’s claim she has “never heard of a defense attorney filing a Williams rule motion” before and, by negative inference, statement the motion was illegitimate, that there are three Florida Supreme Court cases directly on point.

These cases specifically authorize what Judge Karen denies, that Williams Rule Evidence can be introduced by the Defense. See Rivera v. State of Florida, 561 So.2d 536 (Fla. 1990); White v. State of Florida, 817 So.2d 799 (Fla.2002); and State of Florida v. Savino, 567 So. 2d 892 (Fla.1990).

And to put the final nail in the coffin, I provided Simpson v. State, 3 So. 3d 1135 (Fla. 2009), which was a Florida Supreme Court decision decided this year which specifically dealt with a defense “motion seeking a pretrial ruling on the admissibility of alleged ‘reverse Williams rule’ evidence.”

So let us return to the real “earth-shaking insight” of that interview, with is none other than the fact that Jose Baez shook his head in disagreement with Judge Karen. Let me repeat that:

Jose Baez shook his head in disagreement with Judge Karen.

Now this is Jose Baez, an attorney who has looked like a bumbling fool in every major evidentiary hearing he has conducted on the case. This is Jose Baez who, until this motion, rarely cited one applicable case in support of his motion. (I would like to mention Mr. Baez recently won a major felony case, and I respect that.)

But more importantly, this is Jose Baez, who I have never seen shake his head in disagreement with another attorney’s legal opinion before. So he must have been pretty confident about this issue…

We know Judge Karen was utterly clueless about the body of law concerning similar fact evidence or Williams Rule Evidence; you just can’t deny she was clueless about the body of law. And this is what I think about that:

And I think that anyone who goes onto television and gets their head shaken at by Jose Baez needs a closer look; so I did just that.

IMDb says Judge Karen graduated from the University of Florida College of Law (my Alma Matter as well) in 1987 and the Florida Bar says she was admitted in 1989. Now why it took her at least two bar exam cycles to be admitted is something I don’t know. However, her IMDb profile indicates she was an excellent student, so I assume she took a year off – nothing more. (Then again, Mr. Baez passed on his first attempt but was not admitted until several years later).

Anyway,  we know she has been licensed for about twenty years and according to IMDb, her career went like this:

  • 1989 – 1998: Office of the Public Defender and private practice.
  • 1998 – 2000: Traffic Hearing Officer.
  • 2000 – 2008: County Court Judge.
  • 2008 – 2009: Resigned to star in “Judge Karen.”

Lets quickly review what that means. She obviously started at the Public Defender’s office. Since she is from Miami, I am willing to bet she worked at the Miami PD Office. This would have been the same PD’s office Baez interned at after graduation; and they may have even been there around the same time.

At some point she went into private practice. Considering her bio simply says private practice, I am willing to bet that while she handled criminal cases, she was nonetheless a general practitioner.

Regardless, in 1998 she became a Traffic Magistrate. From this I can infer her private practice was not overly lucrative, otherwise she would not need the supplemental income (traffic magistrates can continue to practice law).

Then we have the Traffic Magistrate or Hearing Officer position. Now under Section 318.32, Florida Statutes, a hearing officer’s jurisdiction is defined as follows:

318.32  Jurisdiction; limitations.–
(1)  Hearing officers shall be empowered to accept pleas from .. any person .. charged with any civil traffic infraction .. hearing officers shall not:

(c) Hear a criminal traffic offense case or a case involving a civil traffic infraction issued in conjunction with a criminal traffic offense; or

So that tells me that she has ZERO experience with any criminal cases as a Hearing Officer.

Moving on…

She was elected a County Court Judge and remained one from 2000 – 2008. Now under Florida law, a County Court judge can only preside over misdemeanor cases. (See Section 34.01(1)(a), Florida Statutes.) So that tells me that for the remaining 8 years of her career, she did not preside over one ONE felony case.

So my real question then is why does she think her opinion is important – and more importantly, what makes her such an authority on Florida Criminal Law?

You should also know the Florida Bar is specifically concerned with its members holding themselves out as experts to the public (and maybe the media) in a specific area of law. So much so they implemented the Florida Bar Certification process, which defines certification as follows:

Certification is the highest level of evaluation by The Florida Bar of competency and experience within an area of law, and professionalism and ethics in practice.

I would only note that Judge Karen is not Board Certified in either Criminal Trial Law or Criminal Appellate Law; so why is she even holding herself out as an authority on Florida criminal law on television? Because she has presided over a lot of speeding tickets and misdemeanor shoplifting and disorderly conduct cases?

And why would board certification be important for her to have if she holds herself (or allows herself to be held out) as an authority? Simple – it would show me that she meets the minimum criteria for criminal certification under Florida Rule of Professional Conduct 6-8.3, which are:

  • Practiced on a full-time basis for at least five years,
  • Handled a minimum of 25 criminal trials, at least 15 of which were felony trials,
  • Passed peer review by judges and lawyers,
  • Completed 45 hours of continuing legal education, and
  • Pass a written examination demonstrating knowledge, skill, and proficiency in the field of criminal trial law.

And understand, while not all lawyers are judges, all judges are lawyers. So she could have applied for certification if she wanted. All that I know is she is not. For all I know she could have applied and not met the minimum requirements or passed the test.

Now before I go any further I must point out, some of the smartest and most knowledgeable attorneys I know are not board certified. I would also point out that few judges are board certified and if so, usually achieved the certification before they became judge.

However, neither of these groups of Florida lawyers are appearing on a national television show, allowing themselves to be referred to as Judge, nor do they tell a national audience that the Florida attorney who is handling one of Florida’s most well known criminal cases does not know what he is talking about.

At this point you are probably saying, but she is a judge. You would be mistaken, she was not a judge when she made this statement – she was a former judge who tried and failed at a television show.

That is correct, Judge Karen retired from the bench to start a a television show called Judge Karen. That show lasted one season and was not renewed.

So at the time Judge Karen made her statements on national television, she was actually Karen Mills-Francis, Esq. a former County Court judge who has not handled a felony case in over a decade.

And so I too find myself shaking my head at Karen Mill-Francis, Esq. because the Florida Bar happens to have issued a specific ethics opinion which says it is improper for “a former judge to identify herself as ‘Judge X’ in her private law practice.” See Florida Ethics Opinion 87-9.

And make no mistake about it, she was asked her opinion of Mr. Baez’s motion in her capacity as Judge, not Judge Karen of the failed television show on which she no longer appears, not Former County Court Judge Karen Mills-Francis. Nope, Jane said: “Judge Karen Mills Francis, you`re the judge.”

No, she was asked her opinion as Judge. And not only did she willfully allow herself to be referred that way, she was completely wrong.

So the next time a lawyer offers their opinion to you as an authority on a specific matter, please don’t assume they are actually an authority on anything but providing sound bites.

What bothers me more is that this issue has become such a problem, that as recently as June of this year, the Florida Bar warned former judges about using the title of Judge improperly. (See Florida Bar: Ex-Judges Should be Careful how they Use Their Former Title.)

But why would I have expected her to have read that admonishment if she has never read one of the Florida Supreme Court cases dealing with Reverse Williams Rule evidence?

“Judge Karen Mills-Francis” – what a Turkey.

Author: Richard Hornsby

Orlando, Florida Criminal Defense Lawyer and DUI Attorney Richard Hornsby is Board Certified in Criminal Trial Law by the Florida Bar and represents clients throughout Central Florida in all criminal defense and DUI defense cases.

23 thoughts on “Judge Karen: This Turkey is no Expert”

  1. @NosyParker
    All of these motions are standard motions filed in Death Penalty cases. They are necessary to preserve constitutional objections in the event the United States Supreme Court later decides that certain death penalty procedures are unconstitutional.

    However, the Statement of Particulars should have been filed a long time ago. It will help enlighten us as to what exactly the State’s theory is behind the First Degree Murder charge.

  2. Thank you Richard. This is the kind of information that we, the public, generally have no idea about and then we assume that the defense is filing useless motions to waste the courts time or expecting to change the laws of Florida for their client.

    I’m curious as to why Lyon has waited approx. seven months to file the Statement of Particulars. This should be interesting.

  3. Mr. Hornsby – You stated on the WS Blog that you volunteer for the Teen Court. That is awsome! It is such a worthwhile program, and it is great that there are attorneys out there who are willing to donate their time to mentor the youth who participate. Have you found that the young people are tougher on each other than adults would be on them?

  4. @VGKS
    On one hand, I think that young people can tell when one of their own is being dishonest. On the other hand, I think young people are unable to “impose a fair sentence” based upon on all mitigating and aggravating factors. They tend to say, well this is what happened to me when I did X – even if X was nothing like what they are judging.

  5. First of all – in just a simple google click, one can find thousands of definitions similiar to the following ones:
    motion in limine definition – legal n
    A motion to limit the evidence that will be submitted to the jury, by excluding matters that are not relevant, are prejudicial, or are otherwise inadmissible under applicable rules.
    Webster’s New World Law Dictionary Copyright © 2006 by Wiley Publishing, Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey/Used by arrangement with John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

    The Cochran Firm, with office locations nationwide
    A motion in limine is a motion filed by a party to a lawsuit which asks the court for an order or ruling limiting or preventing certain evidence from being presented by the other side at the trial of the case. http://www.cochranfirm.com/resources/Ask%20our%20Lawyers/motioninlimine.htm

    … They all mention words like “prevent, exclude, restrain”, but never “include”.

    Second: Mr Baez shakes his head at ALMOST EVERYTHING during CA hearings (I watched them all). Most of the times he disagreed with the prosecution during a Strickland hearing, the judged did not consider and/or tossed out his allegations…..

    Third: Mr Baez and his team’s allegations on national TV (in several occasions), such as: “we have proof someone disposed of the body after the defendat was in prison”, “there is somebody else involved”, “There are as many circumstantial proof linking Kronk to the murder as there are ones linking Casey”, “the bad smell in the car came from rotten pizza”, “there is no proof there was duct tape on the skull”, etc etc – have been DULLY proven wrong by the evidences released so far (I read every single report and followed almost every expert comment).

    So…. mr. Hornsby. Although you’re entitled to your opinion, I find it sad that you choose to consider only the defense’s point of view and is completely ignoring the real facts of the case that have already been released and are 100% available in the web. In addition, apparently you enjoy throwing mud on everyone else who is not in accordance to your own opinion…. amazingly similar to this ‘honorable’ defense team you praise so much.

  6. @mrsbaez
    Actually, I rarely agree with Mr. Baez; it just so happened I agreed with him this one time because he was correct.

    As for the Motion in Limine, I never said that it is not primarily used to exclude evidence. However, Judge Turkey said unequivocally a Motion in Limine could not be used to obtain a ruling on the admissibility of evidence (which if you think about it, is the same thing as getting a ruling on its inadmissibility). However, over 275 appellate decisions (not web pages) disagreed with her – including Florida Supreme Court decisions.

    Finally, the Cochran firm is partially owned by Morgan & Morgan here in Florida. They get no love from me as legal authority on anything but marketing.

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