On the surface, it appears to be the perfect case for “Help Me Howard,” the popular legal help segment on WSVN Channel 7 News hosted by Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein—a dispute at the office leads to a male employee threatening a female employee with disturbing and violent imagery. But this incident did not happen at a South Florida Office. It happened in a Broward County Courthouse when a Chief Assistant Public Defender threatened to “put his fist through the skull” of now-Judge Tabitha Blackmon. What did Howard Finkelstein and Gordon Weekes, his top Executive Chief Assistant do to this guy? They kept him hidden from the public.
On July 27, 2018, Kory Hill, a Chief Assistant Public Defender of the Juvenile Unit (APD), appeared in Judge Elijah Williams courtroom. Assistant State Attorney (ASA) Tabitha Blackmon represented the Broward State Attorney’s Office in the matter involving a juvenile defendant. It was supposed to be an ordinary plea deal hearing in front of Judge Williams. It was anything but ordinary.
An August 7, 2018 complaint filed by the Broward State Attorney’s Office with the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit Professionalism Panel details Hill’s attack on Blackmon:
Kory Hill…got up and advised the court that a statement made by…Tabitha Blackmon was a “fabrication” and that the State would find no evidence for its position. After ASA Blackmon advised the court that that was a bit harsh, APD Hill proceeded to call ASA Blackmon a “Liar” and state that she was “Lying” and that her position was “high unethical” all on the record. ASA Blackmon requested a recess….
During the recess, APD HIll’s verbal accusations escalated and he became enraged. APD Hill exclaimed to ASA Blackmon “You have been practicing long enough, you should know the law!” and yelled at her that she should be “embarrassed.” APD Hill also exclaimed angrily that he was tired of the “State Attorney blowing smoke up the judges’ asses.”
While continuing to yell at ASA Blackmon…[APD Hill] started storming toward her with his fists clenched beside him and yelled right as he walked past her “I want to put my fist through the back of your head” before making a sharp turn and exiting the courtroom. ASA Blackmon was in fear for imminent danger and believed that APD Hill had the ability to carry out his threat to cause her physical harm.
All this was done in front of a 12-year old victim and his family, as well as the defendant and his father, who were there for the plea.
The report states the entire matter was captured by courtroom audio and visual equipment. According to the report, two Broward Sheriff’s Office (BSO) Deputies, a Family Court case manager and another State Attorney witnessed the incident.
Court Baliff Craig Hargrett stated he heard Kory Hill say, “I should punch you in the back of your head!”
BSO Deputy Bradley Willard stated he heard Kory Hill say, “I would like to put my fist in the back of your head.”
GORDON WEEKES SAYS ATTACK “NOT PERSONAL”
The severity of the incident was evident by the quick arrival of Gordon Weekes, Howard Finkelstein’s Number Two, on the scene. According to the facts laid out in an August 3, 2018 Florida Bar complaint, Weekes spoke with Tabitha Blackmon, Supervising ASA Linda Berman and APD Hill outside the courtroom. The report states APD Hill “did not deny making the statement, only that he was not close enough when he made the threat to put his fist through the back of ASA Blackmon’s head for it to qualify as an assault.”
After Judge Williams recused himself and the parties left, Weekes and Hill returned to the courtroom. The Bar complaint states, “Weekes gave an apology on behalf of the office and contended that it was not personal, to which ASA Blackmon pointed out the ways in which it was a personal attack.”
The Bar complaint states APD Hill only apologized for his “on the record” remarks until he was made aware his more aggressive remarks and his threat to use his fist were made off the record.
A memorandum written by ASA Linda Berman states she confronted APD Hill outside the courtroom about his aggressive behavior. She wrote APD Hill, “said the statements were made while he was walking away from her and that there was no assault.” Berman wrote, “At no time during my brief conversation with Mr. Hill, did Mr. Weekes make any comments.”
As for APD Hill’ courtroom apology, ASA Berman wrote, “Ms. Blackmon did not accept Mr. Hill’s apology as she felt it was insincere.”
HILL ADMITS PERSONAL ATTACK ON BLACKMON
On September 24, 2018, APD Kory Hill submitted a five page response to the Florida Bar complaint. Hill started with a. apology for his “unprofessional manner” toward ASA Blackmon. Hill wrote, “I agree with most of the allegations” in the Bar complaint. But then, APD Hill tried to give a rationale for his behavior.
APD Hill claimed he objected to ASA Blackmon’s insistence the defendant register as a sexual offender as part of the plea deal. The defendant was accused of violently sodomizing the twelve year old victim. Then, APD Hill admitted to making a personal attack on ASA Blackmon.
APD Hill told the Florida Bar, “In frustration, I said that Ms. Blackmon was trying to become a judge without knowing the law.” In a footnote, Hill states knowing “Ms. Blackmon was pursuing her personal ambition to become a judge and she had been interviewed by the Judicial Nominating Commission to fill a County Court judicial vacancy.”
APD Hill wrote, “Ms. Blackmon was offended by my comment regarding her legal qualification to be judge.”
Then, APD Hill laid out his defense against a criminal charge. He stated he “immediately folded my hands, placed my folded hands behind my neck, and started to walk out of the courtroom.” APD Hill clearly tried to minimize his physical threat but then he admitted to what he said to Blackmon.
“You make me so angry,” APD Hill wrote. “I want to put my fist in the back of your skull.”
APD Hill told the Bar he immediately returned to courtroom to apologize to ASA Blackmon. Yet, a supposedly contrite APD Hill told the Bar, Blackmon did not accept his apology and she was not crying until he returned to the courtroom.
In a footnote, APD Hill wrote a probation officer told him “she thought Ms.Blackmon was crying to make a show.”
After repeated attempts to undermine ASA Blackmon’s version of the incident, APD Hill tries to garner sympathy. APD Hill claimed he was suffering from anxiety and seeking therapy. APD Hill stated he was taking psychotropic medication as well. After the incident, APD Hill told the Bar he enrolled in anger management classes.
Chief Assistant State Attorney Jeff Marcus took exception to APD Kory Hill’s response to the Florida Bar. In an email to a Nova Southeastern University law professor, Marcus wrote he was “highly offended” by Hill’s “threat of physical violence against Blackmon. Marcus wrote, “Mr. Hill’s response to the Bar complaint, to say the least, was not well received by me. Mr. Hill stated that, in part, ‘Ms. Blackmon’s sworn statement is not true’ and that she was ‘crying to make a show.’ When a lawyer says that a sworn statement is not true, that is accusing someone of perjury. This demonstrated to me his recurring poor judgment by continuing to belittle and bully Ms. Blackmon
Chief ASA Jeff Marcus raised the same issues in an October 2018 to the Bar.
On February 27, 2019, The Florida Bar forwarded the Kory Hill complaint to the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit Grievance Committee “G” for further action.
On August 16, 2019, The Florida Bar informed the Broward State Attorney the Bar “has recommended and [Hill] has agreed to participate in a practice and professionalism enhancement program.” Basically, the Bar gave Hill a slap on the wrist by forcing him to attend a “Professional Workshop.”
The Grievance Committee stated its decision was based upon this being a first offense. The Committee took into account Hill’s seeking of professional treatment from “mental health professionals since 2005.”
While the Florida Bar is famous for its leniency in matters involving lawyers, surely two Democrat politicians, in the era of the “me too” movement, would show Kory Hill the door, right?
Nope. Help Me Howard Finkelstein and his annointed successor Gordon Weekes simply reassigned Kory Hill to a desk job outside the public view.
Tabitha Blackmon was clearly the victim in this matter. No man, no woman, should be subject to threats of violence in the workplace. But what message does it send to all the employees of the Public Defenders Office, and the State Attorney’s Office, all the lawyers, judicial assistants, court reporters and bailiffs, when a serious matter like this is swept under the rug?
Now, Gordon Weekes wants to replace Help Me Howard Finkelstein. What will he do with Kory Hill if he wins next week’s election? Courthouse insiders tell REDBROWARD that Weekes and Hill are friends. Would Broward Public Defender Gordon Weekes bring back Kory Hill from his exile at the jail?
As for Tabitha Blackmon, she may not have received justice but she did get the last laugh.
On June 24, 2020, Governor Ron DeSantis announced the appointment of Tabitha Blackmon to the Broward County Court. Blackmon, of Fort Lauderdale, has been a prosecutor for the State Attorney’s Office since 2017. She previously served as an attorney for the Attorney General’s Office. She received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida and her law degree from the University of Florida College of Law.