Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Saturday, August 2, 2014
Judge removed from bench

Circuit Judge Tegan Slaton was removed from the bench Friday due to reported erratic behavior during court proceedings, according to multiple sources close to the situation.

Monroe County Chief Circuit Judge Luis Garcia ordered Slaton removed sometime Friday after Slaton appeared incoherent or otherwise disheveled while sitting on the bench, multiple sources with knowledge of the situation said on the condition of anonymity.

Court reporter Lisa Rozier told U.S. 1 Radio News journalist Ezra Marcus during a segment for the Evening Edition radio program that she was present in the courtroom when Monroe County Sheriff's Office bailiff deputies asked Slaton to step down in the middle of a trial.

The trial was reported to be a bench trial, meaning no jurors were present in the courtroom. Rozier didn't comment on Slaton's behavior shortly before that incident.

Rozier said that circuit Judge Mark Jones then entered the courtroom, explained to those present that there was an emergency and adjourned court proceedings.

Slaton's primary campaign manager and friend Robert Cintron said that Slaton was filing a voluntary medical leave of absence until further notice.

"That's being communicated to the chief judge (Garcia) as we speak," Cintron said around 3:30 p.m. "From a personal standpoint, he remains my friend and I'm going to stand by him through thick and thin."

Cintron added he was not in court, so he could not comment on what transpired. Cintron added he didn't have the authority to speak about Slaton's medical issues.

Trial Court Administrator Holly Elomina said that no such written order from Garcia removing Slaton was issued and declined to comment on that matter, but confirmed shortly before 4 p.m. that Slaton had filed voluntary medical leave paperwork.

Messages left for Garcia at his office at the Plantation Key courthouse were not returned as of press time.

Multiple other people who were in the courtroom at the time declined to comment when reached by telephone.

The incident comes nearly two months after Slaton fell asleep on the bench during a child relocation hearing. He later said he had been on the sleep-inducing drug Ambien, of which he been recently prescribed.

Slaton said he told the prescribing doctor after the incident that the drug was affecting his ability to work and could no longer take the drug.

Slaton said he has gastrointestinal and insomnia medical issues and multiple doctors, but he stopped short of offering further specifics, citing privacy laws.

"Absolutely not," Slaton said when asked at that time if alcohol played a role in the sleep incident, in response to widespread speculation in the legal community that he has consumed alcohol while on the job.

Slaton is currently running for re-election for the six-year term in the Aug. 26 primary. He faces Key West family law attorney and mediator Bonnie Helms and Upper Keys attorney Jack Bridges.

Whether Slaton will remain in the race was not discussed by Slaton and Cintron Friday, Cintron said.

"I didn't think it was appropriate to discuss the race with him this afternoon," Cintron said. "My focus was on his health and not the election."

As of the last count July 25, Slaton had raised $38, 604 -- including more than $15,000 he has loaned himself -- and spent about $24,400.

Jack Bridges, of Key Largo, has raised $21,338 in contributions, taking out no loans, and spent $10,357, state records show. Bonnie Helms, of Key West, has raised $22,255 -- including $5,000 in loans -- and spent $10,357.

Unless one candidate Aug. 26 takes 50 percent plus one vote, a runoff will settle the race Nov. 4.

Slaton's absence means that Monroe County is now down two circuit judges as former circuit Judge David Audlin retired earlier this year.

Gov. Rick Scott has until Sept. 9 to select a replacement for Audlin.

alinhardt@keysnews.com

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