Broward Chief Judge Victor Tobin is being sued for defamation and accused of misleading the state Legislature and the County Commission about the cost of a program that handled traffic cases for the county, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday.
In what amounts to a whistle-blower complaint, ex-Broward Judge Jay Spechler is suing his former boss over a ”bogus” demotion, and wants his spot back on the bench, according to the civil defamation lawsuit.
Tobin, who in March banned Spechler from the main courthouse and demoted the judge to handle traffic cases, created a hostile work environment and forced Spechler to resign, the lawsuit alleges.
Tobin confirmed he was served with the lawsuit, but declined to comment.
He is being sued personally and not in his capacity as chief judge.
”I did receive it today, and I think the lawsuit is unworthy of comment from me,” said Tobin, who was appointed chief judge in September.
Spechler claims his banishment was part of Tobin’s revenge for challenging the chief judge’s ”devious strategy” concerning the Traffic Hearing Officer program, which handles hundreds of thousands of traffic citations annually.
The state planned to stop funding the program this year as part of budget cuts.
The lawsuit also claims Spechler was unjustly punished for allegedly making disparaging comments toward a female judge, Marina Garcia-Wood.
”What has happened to me is pure political retribution,” Spechler said in an interview Wednesday. “What’s most important to me is my family and my reputation. I want my reputation back. I just plan to fight for what’s right.”
Spechler is demanding unspecified monetary damages and reinstatement to his county judgeship, contending his demotion was unconstitutional.
Spechler is also suing for the emotional distress and humiliation he suffered as a result of Tobin’s ”vindictiveness” and ”dictatorial banishment,” according to the lawsuit.
The defamation lawsuit and ongoing feud between the two former colleagues dates back to last year. The issue appeared to have died down after Spechler’s abrupt resignation in April.
He has since been working at the Center for Conflict Resolution, a mediation firm based in North Miami.
Meanwhile, Tobin has been busy reassigning other judges in an effort to handle budget demands from the state.
According to the lawsuit, Spechler and Tobin first butted heads in January after an incident between Spechler and Garcia-Wood, a judge in the juvenile division.
Spechler did not elaborate on the incident, but said he personally tried to approach Tobin to explain the situation, but was rebuffed by the chief judge.
Things got worse for Spechler in March, he said.
According to the suit, Spechler alleges that in a March 8 e-mail to all judges and judicial assistants, Tobin said he would conceal from the state Legislature the possibility that the Broward County Commission would pay for the Traffic Hearing Officers program, which was on the verge of being cut by the state.
Meanwhile, Tobin was sending inflated costs of the program to the county, Spechler alleges.