Florida Supremes asked to order Renatha Francis, who may soon join them, off a case for bias

renatha francis
The interior of the Florida Supreme Court

By Noreen Marcus,

The lawyer for a woman who filed an ethics complaint against Judge Renatha Francis wants the Florida Supreme Court to order Francis off her case.

Delray Beach attorney Margherita Downey filed a petition Thursday asking the court to consider her claim that Francis, a West Palm Beach family court judge, has shown such extreme bias against Angela Bentrim that Bentrim fears she won’t be treated fairly in ongoing court battles with her ex-husband.

The petition carries unusual baggage: Gov. Ron DeSantis reportedly plans to place Francis, who is 45, on the same court that’s now being asked to yank a case from her docket.

renatha francis
Judge Renatha Francis

Francis’s attempted climb to the Supreme Court – her second in two years – is controversial. State Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, says she knows of three ethics complaints filed against Francis during her time as a trial court judge.

One is Bentrim’s. According to Thompson, another complaint was filed by Winter Park attorney Cheney Mason. She provided no details. Mason did not respond to Florida Bulldog requests for comment. The Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) deems complaints confidential unless it decides to file charges.


Yet on her Supreme Court application, Francis denied she’s ever been the subject of a JQC complaint.

And at her June 11 interview, she failed to mention any weaknesses in her background under questioning by Fred Karlinsky, chair of the Florida Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission. The JNC is supposed to scrutinize high court candidates.

JNC Chairman Fred Karlinsky

Karlinsky hasn’t gone public with a defense of Francis since the JNC included her on a short list of six candidates it sent DeSantis two weeks ago for his final selection. Karlinsky is a lobbyist and lawyer with the Greenberg Traurig law firm in Fort Lauderdale and Tallahassee.

After ducking multiple emails from Florida Bulldog over the past week, on Friday Karlinsky released this statement through law firm spokesperson Elaine Walker: “As I understand the process, it is not uncommon for most JQC complaints to be dispensed of [sic] without the judge ever being notified of their existence, which is why it may not come up in the application process.”

James Uthmeier, DeSantis’s general counsel and chief of staff, did not respond to an email from Florida Bulldog inquiring about his reaction to the Francis Supreme Court petition.

Uthmeier “directs the judicial nominations process,” says his biography on the website of the Federalist Society, an ultraconservative powerbroker known to influence DeSantis’s court choices.


Francis does have an enthusiastic defender in her ex-husband Jermaine Smith, the owner of a small trucking company in Decatur, GA. The two divorced 13 years ago while Francis was attending law school in Jacksonville. Both have remarried.

“It didn’t work out for us, but she never once did me wrong, not once. That’s character,” Smith said in an interview last week. Information about the divorce is redacted on Francis’s Supreme Court application.

“She’s just a good person,” Smith said. Francis has said she’s a devout Christian.

Smith described Francis as “a force,” a “driven” individual with a big heart. When an Atlanta homeless mission she supported ran out of supplies, he said, “she went into her own pocket to keep things going.”

His portrait of Francis would be unrecognizable to anyone who watched her June 11 JNC interview. The job of a justice is not to try to rescue people from the consequences of their decisions,” she said.


Angela Bentrim, who represents herself with Downey’s help, filed her JQC complaint against Francis last November. In an April 12 letter, JQC executive director Blan Teagle told Bentrim that investigators had rejected her complaint after reviewing and then reconsidering it.

The Supreme Court petition Downey just filed for Bentrim expands upon her complaint and makes the legal argument that Francis’s actions require her removal from the Bentrims’ post-divorce case.

Margherita Downey

They’ve been fighting over the terms of their marital settlement agreement – mostly the ex-wife’s lifetime alimony – since their 2009 divorce after 12 years of marriage and two children.

Downey refers in the petition to a list she compiled of 28 instances when Francis allegedly violated Bentrim’s due process rights. Over and over again, she failed to properly notify Bentrim about upcoming hearings and other court procedures.

Meanwhile, the petition suggests, Francis blatantly favored ex-husband Jeffrey Bentrim and his lawyer, Robert M. Lewis, by talking to Lewis one-on-one and accepting his statements as facts without letting Angela Bentrim have her say.


Downey uses Senior Judge Martha Warner’s dissent in a related Fourth District Court of Appeal case to buttress her argument that Francis disfavors Angela Bentrim.

In that case, Warner criticized Francis for “making findings of fact without any evidence to support them.” The findings helped Jeffrey Bentrim avoid mediating a contract dispute, even though the marital settlement agreement requires mediation.

Angela Bentrim

“The harm [to Angela Bentrim] is irreparable, because the former wife will be completely denied the opportunity to mediate the dispute,” Warner wrote in her dissent. She was outvoted 2-1 by Judges Jonathan Gerber and Spencer Levine.

Under Florida law and court rules, one reason for disqualifying a judge is that a party fears they “will not receive a fair trial or hearing because of specifically described prejudice or bias of the judge,” says a tutorial in the Florida Bar Journal.

“If the motion is legally sufficient, it must be granted immediately,” the article says. The test is whether the facts “would place a reasonably prudent person in fear of not receiving a fair and impartial trial.”

Downey asked Francis to disqualify herself from the Bentrim case. When she refused, Downey appealed to the Fourth District. On March 21 the appellate court denied Downey’s petition.

The Supreme Court doesn’t have to take the Francis case. Complaints like Bentrim’s are common in emotionally fraught divorce and child custody matters; the justices seldom review them and rarely grant the requested “extraordinary” relief.


Given the political dynamics of this high-profile appeal sitting on the Supreme Court’s doorstep, Downey’s own credibility will probably be tested.

She’s a 25-year lawyer who previously was a state trooper for four years. Downey worked for the late celebrity lawyer F. Lee Bailey in West Palm Beach for two years and spent another two years as an assistant public defender.

Since 2002 Downey has focused on her family law practice and animal rights activism. In 2012 she ran for Palm Beach Circuit Court against Judge James Martz. 

Downey challenged Martz because she didn’t like the way he treats litigants, especially women. “We need a change on the bench, and Judge Martz does not have the judicial demeanor for family court,” she said at the time.

Downey got 42 percent of the vote and Martz kept his seat.

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Latest comments

  • When did the Florida Supreme Court ever care anything about “ethics”?

  • sadly florida bar and all its offices loves to let many jurists and barristers fly freely just under the radar so its really pick and choose who they nail and who they tell to Pass Go and collect their 200 dollars—depending on the agent or official you are assigned to in the many florida bar satellite offices in florida it can go from bad to worst to no thanks this conduct is just fine with us ina New York minute–and the public always loses in the end for sure–check the stats and see for yourselves

  • Her Ex-Husband says she’s a Christian ? ! Doesn’t the Ex-Husband know that Christian’s would NOT use their “power” to terrorize a single mom like she did to poor Ms. Bentim ? Good Story BULLDOG and Ms. Marcus but I’m wondering … was her Ex-Husband a “Mail Order Husband” for purposes of getting U.S. citizenship ? Were her immigration papers investigated ? If she’s willing to LIE on a public Government Application that she had no Judge complaints, and there are three — it’s because she believes her complaints are a secret and won’t be disclosed. Wouldn’t she be likely to lie on BIGGER issues like maybe a fake marriage ? NOW that would ruin DeSantis’ career. Watch out Sir!

  • It does not seem fair or legal for a judge to lie on her Florida Supreme Court application.
    I am appalled by this judge”s neglect for the legal system and Ms. Downey ‘s client .
    It seems unimaginable that Ms Bentrim has had to suffer this long to receive justice and compensation and legal rights .

  • TY Bulldog News for a real nonbiased Story. Yours is a FAIR Reporter who included the Ex-husband’s praise and it is not unusual to have an amicable Divorce when the couple does not have kids. My Supreme Court Petition details a plethora of violations of due process which are ongoing; numerous unfair heartless acts. This Judge is not the person her EX describes. In Court I heard her give affluent litigants a hearing within 1 week – but she made Pro Se Ms. Bentrim wait 4 months for a Hearing to get her daughter back from the father. She was rude to her and she did NOT enforce the Parenting Plan. That’s an anomaly in family Court. Keen Judges know that Teens choose to live with the parent that gives them FREEDOM. However the Bentrim Case is SAD. The child was indoctrinated; it’s called alienation of affection. What child abandons her Mother AND her beloved pets? Family Judges protect the children from being forced to take sides in Divorce. A Judge protects the children FIRST. In 2 cases I know about, this Judge failed miserably to protect the Child. This Judge is not qualified for the responsibility of serving on the Supreme Court. There are far more qualified Floridians that deserve this Honor. Governor I hope you read this comment.

  • It’s odd that the ex husband is praising this judge .She doesn’t sound like the same person he describes. If she was so great why did they divorce? Something doesn’t seem right?

    In the article it says the judge favors the ex husband without letting Ms. Bentrim have her say . That certainly isn’t fair!

    If these 2 parents have an agreement then that’s a contract so the judge should have enforced it . It’s a contract so why didn’t she ?

    Why didn’t the judge just get off the case ? In this story she stayed on the case and hurt this family ! What did she have against this woman ?

    This judge doesn’t seem like she is suitable for the Supreme Court . A tiger does not change its stripes !

  • The last three confirmed SCOTUS judges lied under oath during their confirmations.
    What’s the big deal? Republicans opening lie and cheat continually and seem proud of it. Using “ethics” and “Florida Supreme Court” is an oxymoron of the first order.

  • I am sure Gov DeSantis did not know this judges record and when he finds out will make another choice -can u imagine what problems she would cause on the Supreme Court!!

  • I really appreciate Governor DeSantis who was a blessing during the Covid sham. I am not happy about not fixing the 2020 election, So pls do not appoint an unqualified judge with a horrid record to the Supreme court. If she fails in little things, does she merit a promotion? If she didn’t protect 2 children, can you trust her making decisions for millions in Florida? Pls Reward merit Governor and you’ll keep my vote.

  • The point of a judge is to be non-bias and ethical. If you do not have that, then what do you have?

  • The fact that this judge has had at least three different ethics complaints filed against her proves that she cannot remain impartial. Her ex being a character witness for her doesn’t change how she treated the FAMILIES who filled these complaints. I’m impressed that the paper has taken an interest in uncovering the lack of justice given to the children in FAMILY COURT. The fact that “justices seldom review them and rarely grant the requested “extraordinary” relief” is absolutely appalling. Coming from personal experience these judges hold our children’s lives in their hands. If Judge Francis doesn’t understand the importance of children having two loving parents then shes failed her duty and therefore should not be promoted. I hope our governor will wake up and say no to Judge Francis!

  • Governor – LIARS do not belong on the Supreme Court! The Truth will come out about her true character. If you put her there, beware–she will be your Achilles Heal. Your CAREER will go down the tubes.

  • It is a sad day when I read that someone who is clearly being treated unfairly in a Court of law and in particular by THE JUDGE. I am sure Ms Bertrim has been under immense stress(I am just assuming this would be so) as I read she is representing herself with the help of Attorney Downey. People tend to represent themselves when they have no money When I read that this has been going on since 2009 not only did I ask myself what is happening in this world .I couldn’t help but think about the children.They have been in the midst of this mayhem and are practically ready to go out to live on their own. soon.. just a few more years. What kind of life have they had? The QUALITY of many lives has been affected. . I do not know Ms Bertrim, but I can state comfortably that there is something horribly wrong with many parts of this. story Stress is a powerful creator of disease. This abusive use of power needs to be stopped. For the Judge to be considered for a seat on a higher court should make one question the motives for doing so . The Governor of Florida has been a champion of many great decisions. I find it difficult to believe that he is actually considering this unethical Judge. Why would he do that?

  • Who checked Judge Francis’s Immigration Application and if she LIED? Did she MARRY the Georgia man to get US Citizenship? That would be immigration fraud and a BLOW to the U.S.A. WHO vetted this Woman? The Judicial Qualifications Commission? FIRE them Governor DeSantis! They put the people of Florida and YOU at risk! TY to the Reporter and BULLDOG — your story was picked up on the WASHINGTON PRESS! Governor DeSantis – they slammed you.

  • Renata Francis absolutely lied on her application! I am one of the people who filed a complaint against her with the JQC. This judge has no regard for the sanctity of family or basic human rights. Why would she have any respect for the law! Judge Francis is a biased judge, clearly controlled by others. Void of empathy, she has facilitated the worst kind of parental alienation, keeping a now fourteen-year-old boy from a loving father. Her blatant disregard of the importance of this father/son relationship never considered or cared about the fundamental damage she is causing to a child who has been made to believe his dad is choosing to stay away from him…when nothing could be further from the truth. Judge Francis would not even allow a hearing to be heard to appoint a guardian ad litem for my son. A Judge with no ethics, no integrity, and no empathy should not be elevated to a higher court. That would be a travesty!

  • Thank you BULLDOG for reporting this story – When a JUDGE lies on his/her Application to be a JUDGE, like here for the Supreme Court, a Misdemeanor, isn’t that the CRIME of PERJURY? How can a Judge who LIES in her paperwork for a State Job stay on the Bench? Shouldn’t the Senate IMPEACH a JUDGE who commits perjury? We the people would like to know.

  • Judge Francis had no interest in the future or mental health of my child when she decided that my son didn’t need a father and blindly followed the orders of Mr. Tom Sasser, my ex-wife’s very influential attorney. I call it a kidnapping or a “legalized kidnapping”. While the judicial system may hate that word to describe it, the fact is, it has become another unfortunate pandemic situation and reality for so many good fathers going through divorces in USA, (a self-proclaimed civilized democracy). This judge shouldn’t be judge at all, let alone sit on the Supreme Court. How can any judge or lawyer sleep at night knowing they are the reason for ripping a dad from a kid’s life? This lack of empathy says a lot about their mental state. These lawyers that think they are smart or good because they found ways to manipulate judges and get away doing defamation of their opponent. It has been said that a good divorce lawyer today is one who is an expert at destroying the image of the opponent, which they do by manipulating truths and fabricating lies. It is disgraceful, and shame on any judge that cannot see through it, or purposely (as in my case) doesn’t want to see through it. Millions of kids don’t know their dads in this country. They are told their father’s abandoned them…when it is not true for most of them. We are fabricating our own unstable society by refusing to change our system. Bottom line…A corrupt judge who is a puppet for powerful attorneys can’t be a fair judge. They make decisions all the time without considering the real and complete story because they have the power to simply remove or not allow important pieces of information be used in court. The current system is about hiding the truth, not bringing it out or even trying to know it. This is self-destruction at work. This is what people should be marching in the street about. Everyone should be protesting how fed up we are of the corruption and injustice in our judicial system. Precedents are used to simply NOT follow the law, sometimes doing the opposite of the law. Is any politician going to manifest a desire to fix the current system? Is everyone just giving up trying to even talk about making changes? What will it take for all of us to denounce it and force the debate? As for Judge Francis being considered for the highest court in the state…It is a complete joke! For one, she lied on her application, which is a felony! That in itself, should speak to her character. Or…maybe it isn’t a joke at all. Afterall, she has already proved she is easily manipulated and has been a puppet for powerful attorneys in the lower courts. Why stop there?

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