Unethical Judge Of The Month: Florida Circuit Judge Jack Schramm Cox; Runner Up: Wisconsin Judge Philip Kirk

JudgeFor a judge, you just can’t get any more incompetent than this.

In Florida, Circuit Judge Jack Schramm Cox ordered the Palm Beach Post to scrub a previously published story from its website. This is prior restraint, or the government preventing publication based on content. The order violates the First Amendment; it isn’t merely unconstitutional, it is incredibly unconstitutional. Concluded Constitutional Law professor and blogger Jonathan Turley in his usual restrained manner,  “The utter lack of legal judgment (and knowledge) shown by Cox in this order is deeply troubling.”

It’s not troubling. It’s ridiculous.

Cox ordered The Palm Beach Post to remove from its website transcripts of  recordings of the telephone calls by Frederick Cobia, a jailhouse snitch.  The transcripts  had been obtained by a defense counsel and included in a public filing. Since it was a public filing, anyone can read it, and a newspaper can publish it. Many sources have now published the Post’s story, so it wasn’t going to vanish from the web. Never mind: even though the order was pointless, ineffective and a freedom of the press violation that a sixth grader could spot, Judge Cox  ordered the Post to remove two paragraphs from the online version of its story anyway.

The Post should have defied the illegal order, but journalists with courage and principle are a vanishing breed. Instead it capitulated with this note:

“EDITOR’S NOTE: Under the Nov. 30, 2015, order of Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Jack Schramm Cox, The Palm Beach Post has removed transcripts of portions of recordings of phone calls made by Frederick Cobia while being held in the Palm Beach County Jail. Also removed from a previous version of this story are two paragraphs that included quotations from the transcripts. The Post is appealing Cox’s ruling.”

Turley slyly adds a listing of those who need to be held responsible for this incompetent judge to the end of his post, writing,

“Cox was appointed by former Governor Charlie Crist in 2008 to the 15th Judicial Circuit Court in Florida. He received his undergraduate degree from Florida State University in 1973 and his J.D. degree from the Cumberland School of Law in 1978.”

Indeed, Crist, Florida State and especially the Cumberland School of Law have a lot of explaining to do.

This story came to my attention late last night; up until the moment I saw it, Judge Philip Kirk of Waupaca County in Wisconsin had Unethical Judge Of The Month locked up. Kirk had sentenced lawyer Michael Petersen to five days in jail for contempt last week based on his conclusion that Petersen had engaged in serious deceptions regarding a plea deal for a client. He suspended the sentence and imposed a year’s probation on the lawyer, but added a condition he called a “moving jail.” Kirk ordered Petersen to inform every client and potential client during that time that he is a crook, a cheat, a thief and liar.

“I want you to have as much business as a pimp in a nursing home,” Kirk said. Kirk is known for such colorful metaphors. In 2011, he told a defendant accused of molestation that that he had obviously been “born gayer than a sweet smelling jock strap.”


The lawyer appears to have engaged in sanctionable, even disbarment-worthy conduct. This is not appropriate punishment, however. “Moving jails” are “cruel and unusual punishments,” forbidden by the Eighth Amendment, and the government cannot compel speech any more than it can censor it. If a judge can require a citizen to say “I am a crook, a cheat, a thief and a liar,” then a judge can make him say “I’m ‘Enery the 8th I am” or “I am the Lizard King!”

This judge needs to be un-benched.


Sources: ABA Journal, Res Ipsa Loquitur

Graphic: Farm Wars

8 thoughts on “Unethical Judge Of The Month: Florida Circuit Judge Jack Schramm Cox; Runner Up: Wisconsin Judge Philip Kirk

  1. Agreed on the FL judge but would need to know more about the WI judge. If he gave the guy a choice between the five-day jailing and the “I am a thief” penalty, it would be unconventional but not necessarily wrong. Judges, for better or for worse, compel speech all the time when imposing a sentence, especially when the compelled speech is a condition of getting out of jail. What about sex offender registry’s?

    • I would argue that whether they get away with it or not, they are still abusing power, and the compelled speech is still unconstitutional. Where would it end? Can a judge order me to talk like Donald Duck? Only speak Spanish? Talk very fast or very slow?

  2. I’m really starting to wonder if there is a better way to do things when it comes to judges. I really wish there was some mechanism to remove corrupt, partisan, senile, or simply unethical judges that didn’t also give a weapon to corrupt, partisan, or simply unethical politicians.

  3. the government cannot compel speech any more than it can censor it.

    But many states compel doctors to give false information regarding abortions, on pain of imprisonment. Fantasies such as “abortion causes breast cancer”.

    Much of the Constitution is a dead letter now, not enforced and so irrelevant.

    • But many states compel doctors to give false information regarding abortions, on pain of imprisonment. Fantasies such as “abortion causes breast cancer”.

      Boy, you’re on a roll. I’ll need reliable sources for that. The Constitution isn’t self enforcing. I don’t see many dead letters, and laws are voided as unconstitutional all the time. It’s troublesome when a President decides to ignore the Constitution, and the process works slowly, but it works.

      • But Jack, all zoe needs to do is find some obscure Republican assemblyman on a local level making some outrageous quote and then linking to some obscure Yahoo news article combined with a link to a 3rd rate website of some obscure hate group that a whole whopping load of nobody pays attention too.

        Then we know we can apply to all of America!

  4. I am Michaels father in law. Things have spiraled downward. Mike has been put on probationary hold. I am so confused. This man does not deserve this. Best son in law a man could ask for. He made a grevious mistake but it has become clear that the “system” is intent on ruining his life.

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