|Published:||Nov 14, 2011 9:28 PM EST|
|Updated:||Nov 15, 2011 12:33 AM EST|
FORT MYERS, Fla.- WINK cameras were rolling as a murder trial was halted because the defense lawyer was suspected of drinking on the job. A WINK News investigation uncovers, it's not the first time.
Hundreds of pages of documentation were discovered exposing that she had problems staying sober at work. And the attorney in question just filed paperwork to run for a judge's seat. Karen Miller has a well-documented history of drinking on the job.
We also learned today that Miller was arrested over the weekend, and for the third time she's charged with DUI.
She's still representing clients and wants to further her career by running to be a judge. If she wins, Miller will be presiding over hundreds of cases in Lee County.
James Sims is on trial for murder. Karen Miller is his attorney.
After Miller's strange line of questioning during the trial, the prosecutor on the case asked the judge for a meeting in his chambers because she thinks Miller wasn't functioning properly.
Our cameras aren't allowed inside, but WINK News obtained court transcripts of the conversation.
According to those records, the prosecutor on the case tells the judge that many in the courtroom are questioning Miller's performance.
Transcripts then say Judge John Dommerich says to Miller, "There's a fear in my mind that you've been consuming alcohol during the course of this trial."
The records go on to say he thinks he smelled alcohol on her breath when she approached the bench. She denies his accusations.
But when the judge asks if she can go on, Miller says, "No judge. Just declare a mistrial. I don't think, I mean I think it's my fault..."
The judge gives her a second chance and makes her promise she'll come back tomorrow "In the right frame of mind."
He walks back out to the jury and says only this:
"Sometimes things come up that are unanticipated. Due to an unforeseen situation, we are going to recess for the rest of the day."
The next day Miller did come back, and we tried to talk with her, but she denied our requests.
The trial continued, and days later he client was convicted of manslaughter with a firearm.
"It's very simple. It should never happen. Its unacceptable, but it does happen," said Ave Maria School of Law professor Ryan Alford.
He says even if there was misconduct on Miller's part, under Florida law, no one is required to file a formal complaint to the Florida Bar. It's all up to the client.
"Everyone has the ability to report someone, but no one has the duty. Not even the judge," says Alford.
Days after this incident, Miller filed paperwork to run for Judge Margaret Steinbeck's seat in 2012. But the information we uncovered raises serious questions about whether Miller should be on the bench.
We went through hundreds of pages of her personnel records from when she was a public defender representing people who don't have enough money to hire an attorney.
According to her employment records, in 2009 a judge declared a mistrial after Miller failed to show up to defend her client.
Documents detailing the investigation of that incident show other lawyers reported finding Miller "apparently passed out sitting at her desk...incoherent, slurring her words beyond comprehension...saying "I'm not that drunk."
Those docuemnts go on to detail that a coworker had to drive her home.
During that drive the coworker told investigators Miller admitted to drinking non stop for two weeks.
The personnel record shows things came to a head a year later.
Miller was fired from the Public Defender's office after she was pulled over on her way to work on suspicion of driving under the influence.
Her termination papers cite "repeated violations of the agency's substance abuse policy."
"I wouldn't want to see anyone with serious personal problems on the bench...It's a grave problem not mainly because its effecting that client, but its effecting the integrity of the entire criminal justice system," said Alford.
WINK News tried contacting Miller more than half a dozen times over the phone. She didn't respond, and we gave her one last chance today to give us her side of the story. She declined to comment.
The Florida bar says there have been no formal complaints against Karen Miller. Under Florida law, no one is required to report any of their suspicions to the Bar.