The Florida bar could still re-open defrocked ex-judge Martin Zilber’s discipline case

Grant Stern
6 min readFeb 10, 2023

He’s running for a new office seeking a Miami City Commission seat after losing his last one for misconduct in public office.

A Florida Bar grievance committee letter says it found “no probable cause for further disciplinary proceedings” against Miami Commission candidate Martin Zilber. Still, under the arcane rules referenced in the letter, it doesn’t exonerate him from any future discipline in the case.

To the contrary, by rule Zilber’s attorney discipline case could be re-opened if he gets accused of a crime or new facts come to light.

That has not stopped the Martin Zilber campaign for Miami’s District 2 Commission race and its associated PACs from using polling questions to frame the probable cause letter as an exoneration when the reality is that Florida Bar is the wrong venue for legal discipline involving a judge who hasn’t done the very most heinous of acts.

The candidate himself is now touting the letter as a clean final decision for “any discipline” when it is not.

Zilber is a disgraced ex-judge who resigned before he was forcibly removed from the bench by state disciplinary action for violating numerous judicial cannons. (document embedded below)

The only way the Bar could regulate a lawyer’s conduct while on the bench is in further disciplinary proceedings because of crimes or other extreme offenses.

It’s actually what his own lawyers wrote to the bar, according to the case file.

When one takes the letter Zilber has been sharing lately and then zips through the Florida bar rules before issuing its findings, the letter cites Rule 3–7.4, which governs “Grievance Committee Procedures,” and locates Part (j) 3. that is where it reads:

(3) Effect of No Probable Cause Finding. A finding of no probable cause by a grievance committee shall not preclude the reopening of the case and further proceedings therein.

It means that Zilber’s letter is just the Florida Bar’s very lawyerly way of saying, ‘not now’ or ‘maybe later.’

How likely is it for Mr. Zilber to be prosecuted for his actions?

Ten years ago, Polk County, Florida prosecutors charged a sitting circuit judge for falsifying her time records in a case with some facial similarities to this one. The now-deceased Judge Beth Harlan stepped down from the bench as part of her guilty plea deal six months afterward.

After some discussion with a Bar representative about Zilber’s case, I asked the Bar this question about the contents of the letter:

Hypothetically, is it accurate to say that if a criminal case was later brought against the lawyer for the conduct he admitted to the JQC — these often being conducted in secret before being revealed — only then would the bar would “reopen” the case per the rule?

“Under the hypothetical question, the Bar could either re-open the old file, or open a new file that includes the same subject matter,” answered the Bar’s communications director by email.

There is no known information indicating that Martin Zilber is under criminal investigation at this time for his improper judicial use of funds or submitting an untrue case log while on undeclared paid leave.

The Florida Judicial Qualifications Committee (JQC) is the sole body that investigates sitting judges in this state.

In front of the JQC, it was Martin Zilber himself who personally admitted under oath that his conduct as a judge was “intemperate, inappropriate, and damaged the public’s perception of the judiciary” and “admits the foregoing, accepts full responsibility and acknowledges that such conduct should not have occurred.” Those admissions are confidential under Florida’s Constitutional provisions regarding judicial conduct.

The judicial oversight committee even credited Zilber for fessing up quickly, which, although I’m not a lawyer, in my layperson’s perspective, usually makes it very hard to win at trial.

Yet now, he says he resigned from the bench to protect his family from a “nasty” trial that could have uncovered further wrongdoings he didn’t disclose after the Florida Supreme Court rejected the JQC’s recommendation of a stiff penalty of 60 days suspension and fine of $30,000.

At any rate, it is apparent from his admissions to the JQC that he committed sweeping misconduct.

But he won’t be forthcoming with Miami voters while asking for their votes.

What else did Martin Zilber do that was so inappropriate he won’t talk about it today?

Just one of the admissions the JQC cited that he made under oath was when he falsely listed four special set hearings on his weekly activity log. One of which was actually a Cuban American Bar Association meeting, and three other listed “hearings” were actually social events he attended virtually while he vacationed in Malibu, California. And that’s how he conducted himself as a judge after canceling his entire docket for that week without even submitting a leave memo to the court.

Zilber’s misleading, false, or inaccurate documents were important job performance records for a public official. Falsifying an official record is the main offense in Florida’s official misconduct criminal statute.

The JQC’s judges who charged him bought his excuses about writing a potentially incriminating work log, which amounted to Martin ZIlber admitting that, as a genius lawyer and respected public servant, he misunderstood the meaning of a case log.

The Honorable Michelle T. Morley of Sumter County, Florida’s 5th Circuit Court, signed the fact findings and recommendation on behalf of the JQC panel investigating Zilber’s abuse of office. When contacted, her chambers pointed me to the JQC for comment.

The JQC’s General Counsel, Alexander John Williams returned a call seeking comment but could not say more than, “The pleadings speak for themselves.”

It makes sense that the rules would accommodate the unexpected filing of a complaint down the road. Bar discipline against a former public official serving as a lawyer can take a long time.

For example, disgraced ex-Miami Beach Commissioner and state Representative Michael Greico just got slapped with a bar discipline decision this month, a whopping five years after taking a plea deal for violating foreign political donation laws.

So why does Zilber like to say the bar said there is no probable cause for “any proceedings”?

Unfortunately, now that Zilber is a candidate for office and looking for the public’s trust once again, this is all a series of inconvenient truths he wishes would just go away by dissembling about it and attacking those who expose the truth.

Naturally, Martin Zilber is also the one candidate raising the most money out of all candidates in a 13-person special election field. He is almost doubling the field in fundraising all by himself. His Disgrace racked up endorsements from multiple members of the five remaining elected Miami City officials. As well, Zilber has the nod from several local unions who seem to be ok with his history of being a transgressive boss. Miami’s largest police union, the FOP, also endorsed him.

If Miami voters do not know that Martin Zilber both resigned his judgeship after admitting wrongdoing and supposedly expressing remorse, then District 2 voters could be tempted by his many mailers to make him their next commissioner without knowing he abused his last post.

Because the disgraced ex-judge is actively trying to convince the public that he did nothing wrong in order to win more votes.

So seriously, did his Dishonor violate the judicial canons that the Florida Bar could still punish Martin Zilber for the same misconduct again one day

And it says so in the letter he is sharing to claim he’s free of “any punishment.”

Perhaps that is why he commented on Twitter that the bar “had jurisdiction” over his case. Maybe Martin Zilber is subtly admitting that he knows his case could have easily turned criminal. Who can tell with the cagey former jurist?

Here’s a copy of the Florida JQC’s findings against Martin Zilber, where he admitted wrongdoing before resigning:

--

--

Grant Stern

Miami based columnist and radio broadcaster, and professional mortgage broker. Executive Editor of OccupyDemocrats.com. This is my personal page.