The judge’s participation in the show, granting restraining orders and doling out court-ordered therapy and drug treatment, has landed Kelly in hot water with the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission. In charges filed Wednesday, the commission’s investigatory panel alleged that Kelly had violated six rules governing judicial ethics in Florida.
“You lent the prestige of your judicial office to advance the private interests of yourself or others,” the commission said in its formal charges.
Neither the judge nor her attorney immediately returned requests for comment Wednesday night. She has 20 days to file a formal response to the commission’s charges.
Kelly works in the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court’s domestic violence division. She earned her law degree at the University of Miami, began practicing law in 1989 and became a judge in 1998. The first episode of “Protection Court” aired Sept. 16, 2019, according to the show’s Facebook page, and episodes played during daytime slots between 5:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. on local affiliates of CBS, ABC, CW and Fox channels around the United States.
“I am excited to welcome America into my courtroom to see what really goes on — with real cases and real human conflict,” Kelly told Broadcasting & Cable magazine last year before the show premiered. “It is sometimes dramatic, sometimes lighthearted and humorous, but always compelling.”
Unlike other similar programs, “Protection Court” involved authentic court cases that unfolded in the state’s judicial system, and Kelly acted with the authority of a circuit court judge in her on-air rulings. On other court reality shows, such as “Judge Judy” or Chrissy Teigen’s new “Chrissy’s Court,” the so-called judges actually operate as arbitrators.
“Protection Court” allegedly asked people involved in real civil proceedings, who often appeared without attorneys, to sign a release just before their court hearing began, and made it exceedingly difficult to back out of the show if the proceedings went sideways during filming, according to the commission’s charges.
The commission, which oversees judicial ethics in Florida, accused Kelly and her producers of giving litigants “minimal notice” that they would be asked to sign a release.
Those releases allegedly absolved the show of any liability for revealing personal, embarrassing or defamatory details about the lives of those filmed.
If a person who signed the release regretted the decision after the hearing, the releases required them to foot the bill for any legal arbitration that challenged the show, the commission claimed.
The charges also accuse Kelly of overseeing cases in which people were filmed even when they did not sign the agreements or consent to being recorded by the show’s producers.
Clips from the show can still be watched on YouTube, where viewers have uploaded episodes that originally aired on daytime TV. And the show’s Facebook page has published clips from dozens of episodes since the show’s premiere.
The show claimed to be a “safe space to get help” on its website and advertised resources for victims of domestic violence at the start and end of each episode. On its social media accounts, “Protection Court” shared links to a domestic violence hotline and observed National Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October.
“I hope this show will educate and inform people in need that there is help available, that they are not alone, and that the courts are here to protect them,” Kelly told Broadcasting & Cable.
The TV program boasts an advisory board that includes law school professors, retired family court judges and domestic violence advocates, according to its website. The National Network to End Domestic Violence promoted the show through its social media accounts on multiple occasions.
Sneak peek of tomorrow’s premiere episode! Don’t miss it! Find your station here: protectioncourt.comPosted by Protection Court on Sunday, September 15, 2019
Despite the show’s professed dedication to serving victims, the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission accused Kelly of lying to produce the show while skirting her ethical obligations.
“In order for you to obtain consent from the Chief Judge of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit to participate in the filming of ‘Protection Court,’ you made misleading statements indicating you had obtained assurances that your proposed involvement in ‘Protection Court’ would not violate any canons of the Code of Judicial Conduct,” the commission said in the notice of charges addressed to Kelly.
The commission also alleged that Kelly had “misrepresented” her power over the project, by assuring its members that she had “final approval of anything” and “editorial influence and control” over the show.
It is unclear whether the show is still in production or when the last episode aired. The show’s social media accounts stopped posting new clips in January.