DID JUDGE HITZEMANN VIOLATE ETHICS RULES? Who Really Decides Your Fate?
Jan 31, 2012
BROOKSVILLE, FLORIDA – Judge Kurt Hitzeman is Hernando County’s Domestic Violence Judge. Those charged with domestic battery, violations of domestic violence injunctions, stalking or related charges will find themselves under his jurisdiction. Recently, Judge Hitzemann has come under fire from Hernando County residents due to his involvement with a local domestic violence group.
The Dawn Center is a non-profit women’s advocacy group that operates a women’s shelter and provides other beneficial services to women in distress due to domestic violence in the home. The ideology of the Dawn Center is based on the guidelines of the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence (FCADV) whichbasis its principles on the Violence Against Women Act signed into law in 1994 by President Bill Clinton.
This all may sound commendable, and in part it very well is, but there is mounting pressure from people all over the United States, to repeal VAWA and stop the alleged discrimination that it promotes. The problem is that VAWA contains statistical flaws that create an inaccurate foundation for developing domestic violence laws. In short VAWA promotes that women represent 95% of abuse victims and that men are inherently more capable of committing an act of violence against a woman. The fact is that men and women are equally capable of abuse and being abused. According to a Study conducted by California State University, and headed by Professor Martin Fiebert, “…women are as physically aggressive, or more aggressive, than men in their relationships with their spouses or male partners”. This study consisted of 282 scholarly investigations, 218 empirical studies, and 64 reviews and/or analyses. The DOJ and CDC also submitted conflicting reports to what VAWA bases its foundation. Reports today show a 47% to 53% split among male to female abusers. Most studies also neglect to take into account that men only report the crime .9% of the time compared to 8.5% of women.
SAVE, Stop Abusive and Violent Environments is a group that is promoting an alternative to the current law called PVRA or Partner Violence Reduction Act. It allows for resources to be equally provided to men and promotes a non-gender specific agenda to curtail violence in the home. An important fact to remember is that VAWA costs tax payers Billions each year and is currently up for re-authorization in the Senate.
What makes all the above relevant to this report is that the Dawn Center receives state and federal funding each year in addition to independent donations. To qualify for this funding a non-profit must conform to the above beliefs and receive related training. There are over 47 abuse shelters for women in the state of Florida and zero for men.
Here are the communities concerns; The Dawn Center has been allotted space within the Hernando County Clerk’s Office to allow for advocates to meet with women,(Only Women), who are seeking a civil order of protection against their alleged abuser. According to attorney Howard Iken, “it’s the only time non-lawyers are allowed to give unlicensed legal advice when assisting applicants with processing their motion for a DVI”. News of this practice is very unsettling to respondents in civil domestic violence cases, especially when they discover that the same resources and support systems are unavailable to them.
The Dawn Center also acts as quasi legal counsel for alleged female victims of domestic battery in criminal cases. Many times the advocate acts as a liaison between the victim and the prosecutor during court proceedings. The advocate encourages alleged victims to push for the maximum sentence and discourages contemplations of reconciliation with the alleged abuser, no matter the severity or validity of the case. While this practice is common throughout most districts in Florida, Hernando County is unique in that Judge Hitzemann sits on the Board of Directors for the Dawn Center. Many believe this pushes the envelope of involvement with the non-profit by ruling on Domestic Violence Cases.
According to Florida’s Judicial Code of Conduct there are clear limitations set that prohibit Judges from sitting as a board member for certain organizations. Judge Hitzemann allegedly violates this code by actively participating as a directing member of the board for the Dawn Center. News of this activity has sparked anger and disbelief among those who have faced Judge Hitzemann on cases related to domestic violence. Another disturbing fact is that Judge Hitzemann orders the majority of defendants to probation in lieu of jail time, which may seem compassionate, but Judge Hitzemann benefits by ordering part of the probation fees to be paid directly to the Dawn Center, which Judge Hitzemann directs.
Michael Griffin is one of those defendants charged with domestic battery. To avoid adjudication Mr. Griffin was given the option of probation, Batterers Intervention Counseling, and community service. Mr. Griffin claimed he was innocent and even received the full support of his fiancée, Tamara Conner, the alleged victim. She said that he was not the abuser, but rather, that she was the aggressor in this case and even admits hitting him with a crow-bar. This plea fell on deaf ears with the prosecution early on, so Mr. Griffin opted deny the States offer and ask to take it to trial.
Mr. Griffin came to RNRF with his story after he read a Tampa Bay Times article about a judge who recused himself from a case in Tampa for being involved with MADD. Mr. Griffin asked his Public Defender to enter a motion for Judge Hitzemann to recuse himself in light of the alleged conflict of interest. That motion was supposed to be addressed on Friday January 20th however, in a shocking turn of events, Judge Hitzemann dismissed the charges. Many involved in this case believe this to be an attempt to avoid public scrutiny over the alleged ethical conflict brought to light by the defendant, Michael Griffin.
Over the last several weeks RNRF has attempted to reach Judge Hitzemann and the Dawn Center for comment, but neither has responded to our requests. As of Thursday January 26th there has been speculation that Judge Hitzemann will resign from his position at the Dawn Center due to mounting public pressure.
Citizens are now concerned that this conflict has violated their civil rights, and that Judge Hitzemann was influenced by his position with the Dawn Center. “He basically bought the entire female vote in Hernando County” said one man who wished to remain anonymous.
In summation, Judge Hitzemann is an elected County Judge who sits on the board of directors for a non-profit women’s advocacy group, and orders defendants to pay fees directly to his organization, which is clearly an ethical violation according to judicial rules.The big question now is; will this “call out the Lawyers”? Is it possible that past cases brought before Judge Hitzemann can be re-opened or overturned? Who will be held liable in the end if civil rights are found to be violated?
RNRF will continue to follow this story.