In a Broward courtroom, Jennifer "Mia" Woodward was loud. Confrontational. Emotional. She spoke out when told not to. Refused to answer questions. The judge says she even gave him the finger.
Though Speiser also presides over Broward County's felony mental health court, he did not recognize signs that Woodward was unbalanced. Had he known she was suffering from bipolar disorder, he now says, he likely would not have locked her up.
The judge had the authority to swiftly jail her, without providing her with an attorney, for disrupting the professional operation of the court. The Florida Supreme Court, however, ruled earlier this year that such "extraordinary power" must be used "cautiously and sparingly."
Whether Speiser abused that power is now the central question in a bitter dispute between the judge and Public Defender Howard Finkelstein.
Finkelstein argues that Speiser is a "hothead" who acted in a fit of anger and does not have the temperament to oversee Broward County's mental health court.
Woodward "was unjustly jailed in an act more reminiscent of the dark ages than in accordance with today's ethical treatment of the disabled," Finkelstein complained in a July 21 letter to Chief Judge Peter M. Weinstein.
Finkelstein's office has filed an appeal on behalf of Woodward, 51, of Pompano Beach, and has helped her file a complaint against Speiser with a judicial review board.
The judge, given his background in mental health issues, "absolutely should have known" or at least suspected her condition, Finkelstein alleges.
"It doesn't take very long in talking to her to realize there is something off," Finkelstein said of his client.
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Judge Chastised for Jailing Mentally Ill Woman for Jail Outbursts