Alexander J. Labora says he is running
for circuit court judge to help the people. But an investigation by
Florida's Justice Administrative Commission found that the Wharton School-educated attorney helped himself to $41,312 in
taxpayer funds in 2005 and 2006 by overbilling a court program that
provides legal representation to parents who are about to lose custody of their
children to the state. In a phone interview, Labora denied any wrongdoing.
"The complaint didn't have any truth to it," Labora says.
"I never intentionally overbilled the [Justice Administrative
Labora, whose wife is drug court Judge Deborah White-Labora, is running against incumbent Maria de Jesus Santovenia in Circuit Court Group 47. He obtained his law degree from the University of Miami in 1992 after a successful career as a banker. Since 2010, Labora has been a traffic court hearing examiner. A recent post on Justice Building Blog criticized Labora for using his second name, Jimenez, on his campaign materials and candidate paperwork as a ploy to make himself sound more Hispanic.
Nonetheless, Labora says he's up for the job of judge. "I have the right demeanor to sit on the bench," he says. "I love to help people, and I am fair and honest."
However, the 2006 complaint by the Justice Administration Commission, which oversees attorneys assigned to represent indigent moms and dads in parental termination cases, alleges Labora was interested only in making as much money as he could, even if it meant fudging the number of hours he worked.
The investigation found that Labora claimed to have worked a full 24 hours in one day, 13 hours on days the courts were closed during two hurricanes that hit South Florida in 2005, and 84 hours on weekends and holidays.
In 2007, Labora settled the complaint with the commission without admittting any wrongdoing. The commission and Labora also agreed he would repay $24,300 of the amount he overbilled by deducting it from $52,000 he was still owed when the investigation began. But that wasn't the end of the matter.
Beth Allen Sullivan, at the time associate general counsel for the commission, filed an ethical misconduct complaint against Labora with the Florida Bar. She provided the invoices used in her investigation into his overbilling. Because of insufficient evidence, the bar subsequently found no probable cause that Labora acted fraudulently.
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Labora blames the overbilling on a program he was required to use to log his hours. He also said the commission's complaint was unwarranted and should not concern voters.
"There were no grounds for it," Labora says.