An appearance of impropriety: Mothers say Judge Shull tramples their rights to favor fathers

judge shull
judge shull

By Noreen Marcus,

Three mothers, parties in Judge Darren Shull’s family court, accuse him of taking this approach: Listen to the fathers, ignore the mothers’ conflicting evidence and rule for the men.

When challenged for bias, Shull fights to keep his cases instead of stepping down like judges who want to avoid the appearance of impropriety.

No supervisory judges or ethics regulators have censured Shull for his work in Palm Beach Circuit Court. Regulators brushed aside at least two formal complaints against him; a higher court removed him from one case, but that was an exception.

Six months ago the Fourth District Court of Appeal removed Shull from a case with the same issues the women describe. Yet, oddly, this recent ruling hasn’t affected a case pending in the same court, Nanea Marcial v. David Custin.

“It is insane how they are treating my kids like Yo-Yos, like objects,” Marcial said when the 4th DCA first tabled, then supported a Shull order telling sheriffs to pick up her two sons and take them to their father. Meanwhile, the 4th DCA is weighing her arguments to remove and replace Shull.

David Custin and ex-wife Nanea Marcial

The father is Marcial’s ex-husband Custin, a political consultant and lobbyist whose clients include Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez and Gov. Ron DeSantis. DeSantis appointed criminal defense lawyer Shull to Palm Beach Circuit Court in April 2022; two months later the Custin-Marcial case wound up on his docket.


Marcial says the connections among Shull, DeSantis and Custin influence Shull to favor Custin and treat her unfairly in their ongoing custody battle. She wants to relocate their sons to New Hampshire; Custin, of Kendall in Miami-Dade County, wants to wrest custody away from her.

When a party has good reason to fear bias, a court rule compels the judge to give up the case. Custin’s lawyer used this rule to disqualify the entire Broward Circuit Court bench from hearing the custody case.

But Judge Shull won’t budge.

Late last week, Marcial filed a complaint against him with the Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC), the designated ethics monitor for state court judges.

Shull “has not upheld the impartiality of the judicial system. Instead, he has created a court that is no longer looking out for the wellbeing of the children, but one that actually hurts them,” the complaint says. “He has diminished the public confidence in the judiciary and thereby has done injury to the system of government under law.”

Shull declined Florida Bulldog’s request for a response, writing, “I cannot comment on these matters.”


The JQC weeds out weak claims, investigates and hears misconduct charges that pass a “probable cause” test, and recommends disciplinary measures to the Florida Supreme Court for final decisions.

The commission rejected two previous complaints about Shull from Andrea Spleha of Davie and Angela Bentrim of Loxahatchee. Like Marcial, they are mothers who say Shull showed bias against them.   

Before Shull, the judge in charge of Spleha’s and Bentrim’s cases was Renatha Francis, now a Florida Supreme Court justice. In a sworn affidavit attached to her Nov. 30 complaint about Shull, Spleha said she had similar reactions to Shull and Francis.

“I felt ambushed and demeaned, like I do now with Judge Shull,” Spleha’s affidavit says. She recalled Francis screaming at her and setting a hearing so quickly, “I had no time to hire a lawyer.” 

In response to Spleha’s and Bentrim’s personal accounts of dealing with Shull, the JQC ran superficial screenings and closed out their complaints with an impersonal notice.

“The concerns you have expressed are not allegations involving a breach of the Code of Judicial Conduct warranting further action by the Commission but are matters for review through the normal court process,” says the note the women received from JQC executive director Blan Teagle.


Still, it’s easy to see how an obviously biased judge who disregards a party’s rights and hangs onto their case violates the Code of Judicial Conduct, a list of seven commandments called canons.

Canon 2 states, “A judge shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all of the judge’s activities.” Canon 3 states, “A judge shall perform the duties of judicial office impartially and diligently.”

“Boilerplate letters denying the judge’s specific canon violations absolve the judge of their wrongdoing, emboldening them,” said Margherita Downey, the lawyer for Spleha and Bentrim. The JQC’s referral to “the normal court process,” she said, “effectively closes its door and leaves the client no choice but to file an appeal.”

Spleha, Bentrim and Marcial gave Florida Bulldog copies of their complaints.

The JQC deems all complaints confidential unless and until they result in charges. After a hearing, the commission recommends no further action or a reprimand, suspension, or removal from office. 

The Spleha and Bentrim complaints were handled like the vast majority that go to the JQC, where they usually disappear and never see the light of publication.

For the five fiscal years 2018-2019 through 2022-2023 that ended June 30, the commission reported a total of 3,608 incoming complaints. The JQC website shows that during the same period, 18 complaints resulted in discipline, usually reprimands. That’s less than one-half of one percent.

And because the commission sometimes starts inquiries on its own, the JQC itself — not a wronged party or lawyer — may have initiated one or more of the 18 discipline cases. The commission is composed of six county court judges chosen by their peers, four Florida Bar appointees and five laypersons tapped by the governor.


A review of the 18 cases shows these scenarios drew the toughest sanctions: judges accepting freebie hotel stays, going AWOL from the bench, publicizing “scandalous information” about a political opponent, or mistreating staff members.

Mistreating parties through biased rulings doesn’t seem to qualify as misconduct. Occasionally, though, it spurs appellate courts to action.

In that context, Spleha, Bentrim and Marcial have a strong gripe against Shull: He handed down ex parte, or one-sided, orders without giving them notice or an opportunity to present conflicting evidence. Their claim of ex parte treatment is a textbook example of how to violate the right to due process of law.

Specifically, Spleha and Marcial complained that Judge Shull issued ex parte orders behind their backs for deputies to pick up their children and take them to their fathers.

Bentrim’s JQC complaint says Shull held hearings attended only by her ex-husband’s lawyer after sending her hearing notices to a defunct email address. She suggested that someone had to notice when they bounced back.

And Bentrim says she had the same problem with Justice Francis, the previous judge on her case.

Judge Shull’s use of ex parte orders was the main reason the 4th DCA removed him from the case of Karen Erren v. Eduardo Marin six months ago. Seeking more alimony from his ex-wife, Marin filed a claim and then abandoned it, according to the appellate court’s factual summary.

Erren filed a motion to dismiss Marin’s inactive petition that was set to be heard on Aug. 16, 2022 until Marin’s lawyer claimed to have COVID-19. Apparently expecting a switch to a routine scheduling hearing, Erren didn’t send a lawyer to represent her.

But something else happened on Aug. 16, according to the court’s summary. Shull heard motions from Marin’s counsel to force mediation and make Erren pay his attorney fees and costs.


At some point Marin’s lawyer gave Judge Shull proposed orders to effectuate the ex-husband’s wish list. When Shull signed them, Erren asked the 4th DCA to step in and disqualify him.

She got a new judge.

In their March 8 decision, Chief Judge Mark Klingensmith and Judges Spencer Levine and Alan Forst came down hard on ex parte activity.

“Nothing is more dangerous and destructive of the impartiality of the judiciary than a one-sided communication between a judge and a single litigant,” the panel wrote.

“Even a single act of ex parte communication can be sufficient for judicial disqualification,” their decision says. The court removed Shull.

In the Custin-Marcial case Forst, a member of the earlier panel, joined Judge Martha Warner to table a Shull directive while the court decides if he should be disqualified again for ex parte actions.

But 12 days later, on Aug. 28 an “order of the court” with no names attached ended that temporary stay. Now sheriffs’ deputies can pick up Marcial’s and Custin’s sons at any time; Shull may get to keep the case after all.

So much for precedent. The only apparent difference between the present case and Erren v. Marin is this: David Custin has friends in high places.

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Latest comments

  • Good article.

    You expose corruption.

  • Thank you BULLDOG for your story on Court corruption! These facts are disturbing! Wow! The Judicial Review Board’s cover-up of Governor DeSantis’ appointees Judges Shull and Frances after they “trample” the Law shows a lack of moral standards by the DeSantis so-called Republican “teams”! These government piranhas mar the reputations of all honorable Judges. Granting favors to the rich poisons the Courts. DeSantis’ ungodly exploitation of power should be broadcasted at the next Presidential debate. We don’t need a RINO disguised as a good guy to be our President.

  • It’s about damn time that the blatant prejudice, misconduct and corruption that has become the signature trademark of the south Florida courts, (and YES…I’m especially talking to YOU, CHIEF JUDGE, JACK TUTER), is at least beginning to come to light! But Shull is just the VERY SMALL tip of a VERY LARGE iceberg!!! The underlying reason for HOW and WHY these BULLSHIT JUDGES continue to violate their Oath of Office and BETRAY the public trust, is the prejudice and corruption of the Judicial Qualifications Commission, lead by Executive Director, BLAN TEAGLE. “Absolute Power Corrupting Absolutely!” The JQC does NOT investigate all complaints as was suggested here. JQC complaints, especially MINE and several others that I’ve seen, have been summarily dismissed WITHOUT any investigation! And why? Because they CAN!! I have close to A DOZEN form letters dismissing ALL my valid, well-supported Complaints, most of them signed by BLAN TEAGLE! If there’s a way I can post them here, somebody PLEASE let me know how! Alternatively, I can just email them to the Bulldog, which will include irrefutable PROOF of their violations of the Canons of the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct AND, equally as important, the Florida Rules of Judicial Administration! Speaking of Canons, let’s not forget Canon 1, which was not mentioned. Canon 1 states: “A Judge Shall Uphold the Integrity and Independence of the Judiciary.” COMMENT: “Deference to the judgments and rulings of courts depends upon PUBLIC CONFIDENCE in the INTEGRITY and independence of judges. Conversely, violations of this Code DIMINISHES public confidence in the judiciary and thereby does INJURY to the system of government under law.” Too many judges have “forgotten” these important words! My civil rights under both the U.S. and Florida Constitutions have been violated by the following circuit court judges, all of which I have clear and convincing evidence of: KEATHAN B. FRINK – JOHN B. BOWMAN – SHARI AFRICK-OLEFSON – (former judge) ANDREA RUTH GUNDERSON, CAROL-LISA PHILLIPS and CHIEF JUDGE, JACK TUTER, who sits SILENT while KNOWING his subordinate judges have been “HI-JACKING” my case against Bank of America, whom I caught “dead to rights” committing FELONY MORTGAGE ORIGINATION FRAUD by computer-generating FORGED and FALSIFIED loan applications in 2008, just before the collapse of the real estate market…which I HAVE in my possession! Would anyone like to SEE them? I’ll be HAPPY provide copies, just email me at: [email protected]. In Broward County, Bank of America has some of the BEST judges MONEY CAN BUY!

  • How horrible! that judge should not be in the courtroom if he’s just going to take advantage of moms fighting for their kids just to make money

  • I have nearly the identical story to two of these women and I’ve had Francis and Shull. He ordered a pick up order for my two children two days before Nanea Marcial‘s was ordered. My order was also issued off ex parte communications as well. Judge Shull and the fourth DCA refused to recuse him from my case. I have been trying to contact you to please have my story told and linked to these other women. My children have been and are suffering, they’ve been torn from their home and they are given no voice. The deserve justice (and some semblance of a childhood) in this corrupt system. Please contact me!

  • This crooked judge is DISGUSTING!! What a terrible “human” being to allow this to happen ! This judge should not be allowed to continue to IGNORE the voice of the children in “family” court .
    How can the JQC ignore such abuse ? More CORRUPTION?
    It is obvious the JQC is lazy AND or equally CORRUPT to only take action on less than one half of one percent of ALL the complaints filed?? Really ? What are they doing other than taking our tax dollars and State benefits? Obviously less than one half of one percent shows the so called hired “Watchdogs” aren’t working !! What can be done about this injustice in the legal system that is actually HURTING OUR CHILDREN? Seriously what can we do here ?

  • Someone needs to loose their shit on this asshole and Francis. Both of them are in bed with de satin. the KING of Florida’s legal corruption. I’d bet the farm Francis had a hand in her husbands “Mysterious Death”. She is a Horrible Hunan being who has no right to be anywhere but in jail. Or a graveyard. Only ten years as a lawyer and judge combined. Attacking a family at a 4th of July event. Lying on her application KNOWING I filed a complaint, and the bitch is Still on the high court. That’s a kick in the Mouth of any good and experienced Judge in Florida. She made me cry in her court room, threatened me with dismissal, and her bailiff said he would “Lock me up” if I cried one more tear. I literally ran out of her crooked court room and barley made it to the bathroom to throw up. All because I could not afford an attorney in a case I filed a restraining order on against some one. She even refused to call my witnesses. Or introduce any evidence, and SHE already granted it 4 months before. Then LIED her fing face off at two contempt hearings. the only thing about her sleeping her way into the high court is. She not longer can destroy the lives of anymore honest people that went before her again. VOTE THE BITCH OUT in our next election. Send her crooked ass back to Jamaica

  • Here’s one thing “we the people” can do about prejudiced, corrupt Florida judges, besides WASTE our time filing useless JQC Complaints! CONTACT THE FLORIDA HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES WHO HAVE THE INHERENT POWER TO IMPEACH JUDGES!!! File LOTS of complaints against BLAN TEAGLE personally, the so-called Executive Director of the JQC! And once again, here’s my email address for anyone who wants to see PROOF of the JQC’s CORRUPTION and BETRAYAL OF THE PUBLIC TRUST!!!

    I’ve got ALL the evidence!

    Edward Crespo: [email protected]

  • I was in front of Francis in the same courtroom, Three times and twice for contempt charges for the respondents violation of HER Court order to “STAY AWAY FROM ME” The second and Third I literally left in tears and rushed to the bathroom and vomited. As if she enjoyed her actions. She threaten me with both jail and dismissing my case and needless to say she Denied all my fact filled evidence, and video of the harassment and threats made by the respondent. Yet in my first appearance in front of her, and again to be clear again she granted my first motion, Yet in the second and third after the respondent violated Francis same order, and was criminally charged. Yet on my second and third appearance the respondent was represented by counsel I was threatened twice to keep my mouth shut when all the evidence I attempted to introduce I was told was hearsay. Yet the same evidence that was hearsay presented by a defense lawyer was overruled when I objected. I was not permitted to question the respondents witness, and was denied the witnesses I attempted to introduce, May I add that in a criminal court the induvial who I filed the motion for protection from was found guilty. Then to prove her corruption . I filed a ligament complaint to the JQC, with audio tapes of her actions, in two cases and she lied on her application for Fla Supreme Court Justice, and said she “Never had any complaints against her”. And in addition there were 3 more complaints filed prior to mine. She is an extremely dangerous nasty and corrupt, induvial placed on the bench by an even more dangerous Ron De SATIN. Even after numerous phone calls, certified letters, and the audios themselves my complaint was listed by the JQC as “Confidential” and I was never contacted again. This was all mentioned in another great article by Noreen. Bottom line is these POS Judges do what ever they choose and get away with it, and it looks like her replacement is going in the exact same direction as her. And with SKAMSIS FRANCIS on the High Court, after only 5 years on the bench. These POS Judges will continue violating the law, and getting away with it.

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