An appellate court has reversed a decision made by former Circuit Judge John Lakin — ruling that he abused his discretion — in the case that was at the center of the controversy that led to his resignation.
In August 2012, Sandy Wittke filed a civil suit after she slipped and fell in December 2009 at Wal-Mart, 5315 Cortez Road W., Bradenton, blaming the store for her injuries.
The case went before a jury in June 2015 when a jury, after deliberating for about an hour, ruled in favor of Wal-Mart. The following month Wittke filed a motion with court, asking for a new trial.
Later in August 2015, Lakin granted Wittke’s request for a new trial. Wal-Mart in turn filed an appeal to Lakin’s decision for a new trial in September of that year.
In February, Lakin was formally charged with misconduct by the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission for requesting and accepting Tampa Bay Rays tickets from the law firm Kallins Little & Delgado, which was representing Wittke in Wittke v. Wal-Mart. The commission also found that Lakin had received Major League Baseball tickets from two additional parties with cases in front of him, the Gallagher & Hagopian law firm and attorney Ed Sobel.
Lakin admitted to taking the tickets but denied that it unfairly affected his ruling and or that his actions demonstrated he was unfit to sit on the bench, according to the response filed by his attorney, John A. Weissness.
Later in March, Lakin announced his immediate retirement citing “professional and family reasons” in a letter sent to Gov. Rick Scott.
On Friday, the Second District Court of Appeals filed an opinion, reversing Lakin’s order and reinstating the jury’s finding in favor of Wal-Mart.
“In the order granting the motion for new trial, the court found that ‘evidence presented to the jury during trial clearly demonstrated that (Ms. Wittke’s) injuries were the result of (Wal-Mart’s) failure to follow its own safety policies and procedures,’” Judge Anthony K. Black wrote in the five-page opinion.
Oral arguments in the appeal were heard by appellate judges Black, Morris Silberman and John L. Badalamenti in Sarasota on May 19. All three judges concurred in the opinion filed Friday.
“The trial court’s elevation of the alleged violation of internal policies and procedures to the status of a legal duty necessitates reversal of the order granting Ms. Wittke a new trial,” Black went on to write.
Lakin erred in making his decision to grant Wittke a new trial based on conclusion that Wal-Mart had violated a standard of care in its own internal policies
“The trial court clearly abused its discretion in granting the new trial where the manifest weight of the evidence of causation was not at issue,” Black wrote.
Since resigning his seat on the bench, Lakin has gone back into private practice. He is a founding partner of Lakin Robinson Durham Kane Kurpiers P.A., which has office locations in Bradenton, Sarasota, Tampa and Atlanta.