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Judge Who Pulled Gun on Handcuffed Defendant to be Transferred

May 16, 1992

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) _ A judge who waved a pistol at an unruly, handcuffed defendant will be transferred to civil court, Broward County’s chief judge said.

Circuit Judge J. Leonard Fleet waved a .38-caliber revolver at a hearing Wednesday when Gordon Meyette spoke out of turn. When Fleet criticized the outburst, Meyette muttered to a bailiff: ″If I had a gun, I’d kill that judge.″

The judge defended his action Friday, but Chief Broward Circuit Judge Dale Ross said he decided to relieve Fleet of his criminal court duties.

″The judge is being transferred in one week to the civil courtroom,″ Ross said. ″Sometimes judges can become burnt-out and find themselves in situations where your stress level begins to rise.″

Fleet had previously requested transfer to civil court, said Ross, who wasn’t sure whether other action will be taken against Fleet, a judge for nine years.

Ross said he had no plans to file a complaint with the Judicial Qualifications Commission, a state agency that oversees judges. The state board could reprimand or remove Fleet from the bench if it thought he put the public in danger.

On Friday, Brooke Kennerly, head of the commission, refused to say if the commission will launch its own investigation. In 1988, a central Florida judge was reprimanded in a similar incident.

According to several witnesses, Fleet pulled the gun from beneath his robe after Meyette muttered. They said he placed a bullet in his gun and told Meyette: ″Go ahead and take your best shot.″

Meyette, 43, of Lauderhill was in court on an alleged violation of his probation in a 1983 theft. He sat handcuffed to a chair as Fleet challenged him.

When he finished speaking to Meyette, Fleet fully loaded his gun and left it on his bench for the rest of the morning, according to a memo Ross received from the Broward state attorney’s office.

″He handled the gun in what I considered to be a reckless manner in front of a packed courtroom,″ wrote prosecutor Carlos Rebollo. ″His actions were highly irrational.″

Fleet told Ross he never loaded the gun.

In a written statement, Fleet said he got fed up with defendants who have little respect for judges and police. Fleet said pulling out his gun got the attention of inmates in his courtroom.

Meyette and his attorney said they won’t file a complaint.