Magistrate in Florida Embezzlement Case Rules She Has No Impermissible Conflict

As previously reported, over the Dep’t of Justice’ strenuous objections, U.S. Magis. Judge Linnea R. Johnson (S.D. Fla.) ruled in Mar. 2002 that ex-U.S. Atty. Thomas E. Scott’s prior government service did not create a conflict of interest that would bar him from representing indicted union boss Walter J. “Buster”  Browne. Johnson allowed Scott to represent Browne in his upcoming criminal trial on racketeering and embezzlement charges. Browne pled not guilty Nov. 3 to a 40-page federal indictment, brought by Scott’s former U.S. Atty.’s Office, accusing Browne and his sister, Patricia B. Devaney, of running a racketeering scheme that milked more than $400,000 from his union and four companies. Browne is president of the Marine Eng’rs’ Beneficial Ass’n Dist. 1 (a.k.a., Nat’l Fed’n of Public & Private Employees) headquartered in Fort Lauderdale.

However, Johnson herself may be conflicted. On Apr. 24, Johnson denied another DOJ motion requesting that the magistrate recuse herself from the Browne case. Johnson ruled that although Scott represented her in her 1991 divorce in Miami-Dade Circuit Court. “The representation in an uncontested divorce was brief and over a decade ago,” Johnson said. Johnson added that she examined 100 relevant state and federal cases in recent days. “I have found no case that favors a recusal by this court.”

DOJ filed the motion the morning of the hearing–the same day as the Palm Beach Daily Business Review ran an news article questioning whether Johnson had a conflict of interest.  DOJ’s Julia J. Stiller said the government would not appeal Johnson’s recusal ruling.Johnson also heard lengthy arguments on Apr. 24 on DOJ’s other pending, previously reported, motion to disqualify Browne’s attorneys, Scott and Steven E. Chaykin, from representing him due to impermissible conflicts. No decision on that motion has been reached. [Palm Beach Daily Business Rev. 4/24, 4/25/02]