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Making America Great Again Florida State Attorney Brad King

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When former State Attorney Brad King was appointed to a judgeship in September, the longtime prosecutor already was a reserve officer with the Ocala Police Department, a part-time position King said he enjoyed and one he intended to retain.

Ultimately, medical concerns led King to resign his position with OPD months later, but not before his actions raised concerns about whether holding two positions in the local law enforcement community would lead to any potential conflicts of interest.

The “Gazette” asked King for an interview to discuss the issue, and King agreed to answer written questions.

King, 66, served as Fifth Circuit state attorney from 1989 to 2020. On April 24, 2020, King announced he would not be running for reelection. That was also the last day anyone could qualify to run for the seat, which gave King’s deputy, William Gladson, a few hours’ window to file as a candidate. Gladson was the only candidate to file, and he won the position by default. He has filed to run for re-election this year.

On Sept. 12, 2023, Gov. Ron DeSantis chose King from among a dozen other applicants to serve out the term of retiring Fifth Circuit Judge Richard Singletary. At the time, King was working part time as a sworn law enforcement officer and instructor with OPD. King had attended the police academy after retiring from the state attorney’s office.

King was appointed to preside over the probate docket and the juvenile criminal courts. According to records obtained by the “Gazette,” King continued as a sworn law enforcement officer after being appointed, able to make arrests and access a host of OPD technologies and training opportunities.

The arrangement has led to questions about whether this constitutes a conflict of interest. Readers should note that juvenile outcomes are decided solely by the judge who presides over the court. The juveniles are not entitled to trial by jury. That same judge also signs the bulk of the warrants related to a juvenile.

Article II, section 5(a), of the Florida Constitution prohibits a person from holding more than one office at a time. Being a sworn law enforcement officer is considered holding an office, therefore a judge cannot also be a law enforcement officer.

According to the Attorney General’s website, the “constitutional provision addresses the accumulation of offices by a single individual and was fashioned to ensure that the same person would not simultaneously hold multiple offices. Underlying this objective was the concern that a conflict of interest would arise if one person simultaneously serves in two offices.”

One of the concerns about people holding dual offices involves the potential for someone to access information about a suspect that could influence their case. The “Gazette” is not aware of any time when King accessed confidential OPD internal databases or state and national crime databases as a judge. King said he has never accessed them after being appointed.

King did, however, continue to correspond with the OPD using his department email account after he was appointed to the bench.

The day the announcement was made about him being named a judge, King wrote OPD Chief Michael Balken: “You may have heard that I was appointed to a Circuit Court judgeship today. I will be starting probably on Oct. 2nd. While I still haven’t been released to work in “contact” activity, I was going to ask the judicial ethics commission if they would consider it a conflict if I went back to volunteering when able. If you would rather avoid any appearance of impropriety, I am perfectly fine giving up my reserve position. Let me know what you think, or you can wait and see what the ethics people for the courts say. I have had a great time with you and your people. It was probably the most fun I have had.”

When asked why he wanted to remain an OPD reservist after being appointed a judge, King explained he wanted to keep his certification active and his training up to date.

To be a certified law enforcement officer you are required to complete nearly 800 hours of training that includes both classroom and what is called high liability skills. High liability includes firearms, emergency driving, unarmed self-defense, taser, pepper spray, and first aid certification. After the training is complete you have to take a state certification exam and be employed with an agency for your certification to remain active. You also have to regularly qualify in the high liability areas,” he wrote.

When asked how he hoped to “volunteer” for OPD after being appointed a judge, King wrote, “I believe I could have done my volunteer hours by assisting in various activities that reserves are used for like the Christmas Parade security, Light Up Ocala, and other downtown events and parades that occur. Since I also earned my general teaching certification, I could teach continuing education programs, and assist in training some high liability courses where general instructors can be used to facilitate the class but not actually teach the subject matter.”

As to the “appearance of impropriety” referenced in his email to Balken, King explained “Reserves at OPD generally fall into two categories: one is active reservists who work road patrol or in other areas; the other is officers who have worked their careers at OPD and want to keep their certificates active but don’t necessarily work actively as a reserve because they have done the work all their careers. They are available as needed in certain situations. I think they were called Reserve 1 and Reserve 2. I did not fit into either group. I also have not been released by my neurosurgeon to do law enforcement type work of any kind yet, so I was not going to actually be able to do anything for OPD until and unless I was cleared to work. I actually still have not been cleared to work and may or may not be depending on my recovery from diskectomy and fusion surgery in my neck.”

“I used that term so if the Chief did not want to create an exception to the written policy on reserve officers, he would know that I was agreeable and did not want to press him into a situation he was not comfortable with. Also, obviously, it is a unique situation to have an active judge as a reserve officer. I was not sure if that would cause him any issues with the City,” King concluded.

On Oct. 20, after King was already presiding as a judge, OPD Capt. Charlie Eades wrote to him at his OPD email address congratulating him on his appointment to the bench and asking if it impacts King’s ability to be a reserve officer with OPD. Eades asked, “Are you going to try to maintain your reserve status if it is allowed? Let me know.”

The next day, King replied through his OPD email to Eades, “I am writing a letter to the Judicial Ethics Office to ask them if they think it is a conflict. There would be some things I would have to avoid, if possible, like arresting anyone when I would have to do first appearance hearings the next day. I had talked to the chief and he knows that I am asking for the opinion to try and keep my reserve status. I will let you and he know as soon as I get an answer.”

King told the “Gazette” he never requested the ethics opinion.

“I never sent the letter because I was waiting on my doctor appointment,’’ he said. “At my appointment on Nov. 3rd, the doctor told me that I would not be cleared ‘any time soon’ and projected March 2024, as the very earliest date, if everything went well.”

King received hundreds of emails from the OPD after he was appointed as judge, including emails sent to “All sworn personnel.” The topics covered included everything from training opportunities, to which he at least once replied he was not physically able to participate, inner office alerts and open shift opportunities.

King also has familial connections to Marion County Sheriff’s Office.

The “Gazette” attended almost 100 juvenile criminal court hearings presided over by King at the end of October. During one hearing, while sentencing a young woman under a plea agreement, King spoke about his son Chase King, who is an MCSO deputy. King said he had talked with his son about the defendant.

“I was aware of this girl’s situation because my son had spent a lot of time trying to help her and like all juveniles who come to my court, I try to speak to them about their individual situations. I felt like she needed to know that there were people on her side, trying to help her. You may never know of her situation beyond that, but hopefully I was able to encourage her that people thought she was brave and that they were on her side,” explained King to the “Gazette.”

When King was asked what he would say to alleviate concerns that he may have opportunity for exparte communications with law enforcement due to his connections to OPD and MCSO, King replied, That issue has not come up. Given all of my years of public service, I think the public is very comfortable with my integrity. There are rules in place that govern judges and allows for parties, through their attorneys, to ask the judge to reassign a case to another judge for a particular reason. Off the top of my head, I can think of four other judges in the Fifth Circuit who have been actively involved in law enforcement and that question has never been raised about them to my knowledge.”

In his Nov. 13 letter, King told Balken: “It is with deep regret that I tender my resignation as Reserve Police Officer with the City of Ocala. I have been physically unable to work for a year now due to three surgeries. I think it is best that I give up the hope of being able to work for your agency again. As I discussed with you, it would be at least March before the doctor would even consider clearing me to come back to work. Given that I have found other work that is nearly as much fun as working for OPD, I think it best that I just concede that I am not young anymore and settle for a more sedate role in serving the public. I will always be proud of my time working for you and wish you and your agency the very best.”

When he was appointed judge, King told the “Gazette” he believed his reputation and experience would benefit him as he steps into his new role. King also told the “Gazette” he didn’t anticipate interacting with his successor, Gladson, very often as he takes on this new role, saying “the only contact I’ll have with the State Attorney’s Office is to pass them in the hallway, basically.”

Judicial ethics prohibit judges from presiding over hearings where one of the attorneys is someone with whom the judge may have practiced. There is generally an exception to this rule when it comes to lawyers who may have practiced together while working for government agencies.

Canon 3E(1)(b) notes indicate that “a lawyer in a government agency does not ordinarily have an association with other lawyers employed by that agency within the meaning of Section 3E(1)(b); a judge formerly employed by a government agency, however, should disqualify himself or herself in a proceeding if the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned because of such association.”

Gladson said he is confident in King’s impartiality.

“I have absolutely no concerns about Judge King’s ability to remain impartial,’’ he wrote, “and I know the lawyers that practice on his docket feel the same way.”

Public Defender Michael Graves told the “Gazette” that he would not have been comfortable with King holding both offices but thus far the attorneys in his office indicated they enjoyed practicing in juvenile court in front of King.