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Broward Judge Suspended After Allegations Of Touching, Shaking Court Employee

TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami) - The Florida Supreme Court suspended Broward Judge Vegina Hawkins without pay on Friday as the court investigates allegations that Hawkins touched and shook a court employee during a confrontation.

The incident was captured on a courthouse surveillance camera and the Supreme Court released the video Friday afternoon. The video shows Hawkins briefly putting her hands on the neck of the court employee as he emerged from a door, shaking him. After she released her hands from the worker, she engaged in an animated conversation with him.

Hawkins, who's only been on the bench for a few months, is accused of getting upset with the employee over the preparation of some documents. Reports from the Judicial Qualifications Commission say the issue began in the morning of June 11 and sprang from "Judge Hawkins' displeasure with the fact that papers for her 2:00 PM docket were not yet on her desk ready for her review."

Hawkins, a former 8-year prosecutor, is accused of seeking out the employee and talking to him in a secure courthouse hallway where she "placed her hands around his neck and shook him back and forth."

Investigators say when they questioned Judge Hawkins she "acknowledged that her actions constituted a battery against the other person when she put her hands around his neck and shook him."

WATCH: Supreme Court releases surveillance video of encounter:

An attorney for Judge Hawkins wrote to the judicial panel saying, "Judge Hawkins' position has always been that she did not believe she touched the employee." Initially, according to the reports, the judge indicated that she did not believe she touched him, even after watching video of the encounter with Broward Chief Judge Jack Tuter. However, Hawkins' lawyer, David Bogenschutz, wrote in his filing that at the JQC hearing earlier this month, Hawkins "conceded" that it did appear she touched him.

Bogenschutz wrote that "she has always taken the position that whether she touched him or not, her actions were inappropriate."

In Hawkins' response to the charges her attorney writes that she knows she was wrong.

"Every move I made was wrong she told the commission," Hawkins is quoted as saying to the panel. "It was improper. No judge should ever do anything like that. I take full responsibility for it."

Judge Hawkins was not on the bench on Friday and her courtroom was quiet. Court administrators confirmed to CBS 4 News that Hawkins was not currently assigned to a judicial division while they awaited the Supreme Court's decision on her immediate suspension.

Also at issue, according to the JQC, is the matter of Hawkins' explanation about whether she touched the employee.

The panel said it is concerned about the "Misleading context of Judge Hawkins' statement describing her 'contention' that she never touched the person. This is clearly refuted by the security video, which Judge Hawkins watched prior to submitting her self-report."

Bill Gelin, attorney and blogger with JAAB BLOG, which broke the story, spoke about the allegations.

"It doesn't make any sense why this would happen," Gelin said. "Nobody should be inappropriately touching anybody but certainly a powerful figure like a Circuit Court judge."

The Broward Sheriff's Office says it does not have an open criminal investigation into Hawkins' actions.

Broward Chief Judge Jack Tuter said in a statement, "Judge Hawkins is deeply apologetic over the incident. There exists no situation in which a judge can inappropriately touch any person."

The Florida Supreme Court will continue looking into the case and will decide if punishment is warranted. That decision could come at any time.

(©2019 CBS Local Media. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The News Service of Florida's contributed to this report.)

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