The article below was posted prior to the primary elections held on August 26, 2014. Only two of Broward’s judicial elections require a runoff on November 4, 2014. Those two judicial races are Group 16 of the 17th Judicial Circuit and Group 27 of the Broward County Judicial Bench.
For Group 16, I recommend Rhoda Sokoloff for the reasons stated originally (my comments remain available below) when I very narrowly decided to recommend one of her former opponents.
For Group 27, I continue to recommend Ian J. Richards for the reasons stated originally which are also still available below.
First, there are no poor candidates in this election field.
There are no kooks, crooks, clearly-unqualifieds, or those suspected of corruption. (Though there is one incumbent in the news, and that is discussed below.) Each candidate evidences excellence, appears sincere, and has demonstrated varying levels of community commitment.
My recommendations lean toward candidates with a high volume of court experience, previous judicial experience (meaning incumbency), and whose public service has demonstrated a compassionate heart, attention to detail, and who evidence the capacity to transcend prejudice and heuristic through treating people and cases as unique and individual. I believe that these attributes optimally maximize the potential for consistent, albeit always imperfect, fairness.
When determining the varying levels of these qualities in each candidate I reviewed news reports, both traditional and social, solicited colleagues’ anecdotes, and, when available, I reviewed the candidate’s websites.
I did not consider the political affiliation of any candidate.
Campaigning in Leon County during 2012 early voting
I also chose not to review their success at fundraising and, unless all other factors were equal, I ignored consideration as to ethnicity, gender, religion, or sexual orientation. If all other factors were equal, I sided with choices that empower representatives of historically disenfranchised communities–this is intended to further the public interest of having a judiciary as diverse as the society it judges.
These are my recommendations followed by a brief analysis of why I recommend them:
17th Circuit Judges
Group 8: Lynn Rosenthal*
Group 16: Andrea Ruth Gundersen
Group 17: Julie Shapiro Harris
Group 27: Steven Brian Feren*
Broward County Judges
Group 18: Ellen A. Feld*
Group 27: Ian J. Richards*
*Denotes that the recommended candidate is also the incumbent.
Analysis of 17th Circuit Judicial Candidates:
After a vigilant commenter pointed out a factual inaccuracy in my previous analysis of this race, I decided to reevaluate my opinion.
It was not a pleasant experience.
I had hoped to avoid reading countless exaggerations and hyperboles, at times rank with racism, but always publicly deadening to the sensibilities of our falters at ethical democracy. There were wildly misleading mailers to consider, a legally miscaptioned website with a candidate directly soliciting funds, unsubstantiated gossip questioning the military service of a candidate by people who don’t seem to have served, and sanctimonious quips posted anonymously–one actually under the moniker “Jesus Christ.”
I have distilled the blogs, newspaper reviews, websites, and the commentaries of my colleagues into this: I continue to recommend Lynn Rosenthal because I believe her 27 years as an Assistant United States Attorney evidences an extremely trenchant knowledge of the law. Although some who have practiced before her perceive a, presumably unconscious, preference for prosecutorial argumentation, she also solicits (or claims to solicit) lawyer criticism so she can do better. She volunteers with her synagogue, has an even temperament, and offers a consistently pleasant affect toward others. Her opponent’s eleven years of legal experience, even supplemented with four years military experience and a supernal record of community commitment, is, while excellent, simply not equal to a jurist with thirty-five years legal experience. Even one who made a public mistake recently.
For many this is going to be a difficult vote. Earlier this year, Judge Rosenthal crashed into a parked Sheriff’s cruiser in the courthouse parking lot. A breathalyzer detected zero alcohol and she declined the privilege of urine and blood tests. She noted that she took an Ambien the night before. At first, the connection between the two events seems untenable. (Particularly when there was Xanax found in the car.) But, according to her defense, her doctor botched the prescription and accidentally gave her double the recommended dose. A verifiable side effect of this–well, you’re kind of partly asleep but totally unable to realize it. In other words, its not like getting into a car when you know you shouldn’t because you feel buzzed.
It may not be a compelling defense, but it is plausible.
Ultimately, she pled no-contest to reckless driving, and was sentenced to three months of probation, restitution, and 25 hours of community service. This appears to be an isolated incident, with a plausible explanation, and it would probably be good public policy to make sure our judges know what it’s like to briefly be in a cell and forced to pick up trash in a fashionable orange jumpsuit. Perhaps this learning experience will make her more sympathetic to others’ explanations for their own, ahem, unusual behavior.
Frantz ‘Jahra’ McLawrence is a tremendously compassionate advocate who spent four years in the U.S. Navy. He is a graduate of FAMU and UF and volunteers his time as a youth mentor at Broward schools, Legal Aid and the Urban League. In addition to his practice of criminal defense (both private and public) he gives lectures and seminars to churches and schools. His diligent hard work truly makes the community a better place. When he unsuccessfully ran for judge last time, he was endorsed by the Sun Sentinel.
Attacks to his resume are, in my opinion, factually inaccurate.
You can visit his campaign website here.
But Judge Rosenthal has also been an outstanding public advocate–and she has been doing it much longer. Therefore I do not recommend Mr. McLawrence in this specific election–but I’d be happy to someday help him run for City Commission or the Florida Legislature. He is a valuable member of the Broward legal community.
I continue to recommend Judge Rosenthal.
You can visit her campaign website here.
Group 16: Andrea Ruth Gundersen
There are four candidates in this race, and two of them, Andrea Ruth Gundersen and Rhoda Sokoloff, seem to each display extraordinary community commitment. Ms. Gundersen helped organize the Broward Veterans’ Court, a model which I and many others currently advocate for in Leon County. (Others advocate for it throughout the country.) Ms. Sokoloff, meanwhile, is on the vanguard of law and mental health. Ms. Gundersen has countless endorsements and Ms. Sokoloff has an incredible back-story which might convince Gottfried Leibniz that we do not, in fact, live in the best of all possible worlds.
I did not take into account Ms. Sokoloff’s personal financial situation, as I think the inexcusably advanced cynical argument that it potentially makes her susceptible to bribery is both offensive and unsubstantiated. It is a not-so-subtle suggestion that the poor are unfit for office. Of the lawyers I know who should be judges, only a very few are also millionaires. Some of the most celebrated lawyers I know will never get out of debt.
Nevertheless, in this close decision, I recommend Ms. Gundersen. She offers a similar compassionate temperament and her reputation as a family lawyer is more consistent in its receipt of very high marks.
I will note some potential for bias here. Under the leadership of mental-health legal legend Dan Hendrickson, I was the Civil Law Coordinator for the 2013 North Florida Homeless Veterans’ Stand Down, and my attempts to get a specialty veterans’ docket established in Leon County were premised on some of Ms. Gundersen’s work in Broward County. I have, however, never met her (I think).
Group 17: Julie Shapiro Harris
Law is Julie Shapiro Harris’s second career. She began her professional life as an FSU-trained MSW and spent years as a social worker. It is therefore not surprising that she has dedicated herself to public service. For the past decade she has been a staff attorney for the Broward Clerk of the Court where she coordinates domestic violence petitions from people asking the Court for protection orders. She has a great eloquence of understanding about her: “You learn to respect everyone. Just as every person is an individual, every case is unique. They may seem similar, have similar factual backgrounds, but the individuals and cases are unique.”
Yes, that is the stuff from which great judges are made.
Her opponent is 36-years-old, a graduate of Cornell, and was top of her class at the University of Miami College of Law. Her family is well known and respected. After working as a prosecutor for several years she switched to private practice in 2011. According to news reports, she says that her experience with forty trials makes her more qualified.
I was unable to identify any tremendous public service or extracurricular activity outside of her, albeit highly praised, legal life. Ms. Harris’s wealth of world experience, in addition to a legal career which spans an additional 8 years beyond that of her opponent, as evidenced through her carefully deliberate diction, make her, in my opinion, the better candidate in this particular race.
Though clearly her opponent has a very promising political future.
You can read more about the race here.
Group 27: Steven Brian Feren*
Judge Feren is a former Florida House Member and has spent ten years as the Mayor of Sunrise. He has practiced law with distinction since 1980. His first six-year-term has been without controversy, though he was once removed from a case because he improperly explained the range of criminal problems a juvenile defendant faced. (It seems that he was just trying to help a kid understand his situation.) He has an excellent reputation in the legal community, has received a slew of endorsements, and does not deserve to lose his job.
His challenger has been a prosecutor at the state and federal level and defended people both between and after. His campaign strategy has been a bit odd–citing the three DUI arrests of Broward judges this year, he says he will bring integrity back to the Broward Bench. However, Judge Feren was not one of the accused judges, and the opponent wrote the book “Feeling the Heat” where he explains that he himself was an abuser of alcohol–though he wasn’t an “alcoholic.” He does say some tremendously beautiful things about defending the indefensible–but I’m not sure how that meshes with him running around the country for years as a federal obscenity prosecutor.
You may buy his book here.
I recommend Judge Feren be reelected.
Analysis of Broward County Judicial Candidates:
Group 18: Ellen A. Feld*
Judge Feld has not merely been a good judge, she has been a transcendent one. When the foreclosure fairy comes she tries to create pathways where the resident stays in their home. A former Special Public Defender, she is respected by her colleagues. There is open speculation that she is being opposed by aggrieved supporters of the incumbent she unseated six years ago.
Her opponent is a former postal worker who has practiced before each of Florida’s twenty circuit courts and five district courts of appeal.
You can read his solicitation for contributions, which casually notes that it is directed to the supporters of her previous election’s opponent, here.
I recommend Judge Feld be reelected.
Group 27: Ian J. Richards*
I guess there can’t be a bailiff in every courtroom. In 2009, when a domestic abuser lunged to attack his ex-girlfriend in open court, Judge Richards leaped over his bench and physically protected her! He was first elected six years ago at the remarkably young age of thirty-three. He walked door to door for votes, largely avoiding endorsement processes and candidate forums (which would have probably called unwanted attention to his age), and was accused of running a “stealth” campaign–which he and pretty much everyone else would refer to as “grassroots.”
Of his two opponents, one has been practicing law since 2006 and the other cites his licensure to appear in federal court as a rather enigmatically relevant qualification over the incumbent.
If you love a fighter, I recommend Judge Richards be reelected. Though if he had a more cynical campaign manager, there would probably be the names of five other women on the ballot.
What are your recommendations? Please share in the comment section below.
A Brief Note about the Florida Democratic Party’s Primary for Attorney General:
If you are undecided in the Florida Democratic Party’s Primary for Attorney General, please consider voting for George Sheldon.
I don’t have a single negative comment about his opponent, but George’s experience is transcendent. His problem solving skills and ability to create consensus have been repeatedly demonstrated during his service in senior posts at the state and national level, working under both Republicans and Democrats. He has dedicated his entire public service career to advancing the cause of human rights (by breaking up human trafficking rings), protecting the defenseless (particularly abused children), and uplifting the oppressed (by reducing the error-rates in welfare and food stamp distribution).
He spent a career working for previous attorney generals, ultimately becoming chief deputy (for central Florida) to beloved Bob Butterworth. When the Department of Children and Families was in shambles–then Governor Charlie Crist tasked him with fixing it. He has also served as a senior official in the Obama administration. Prior to serving in the executive branch, George spent 8 years in the Florida House of Representatives.
You can learn more about this extraordinary human being here.
You can compare George’s record with his, also qualified, opponent’s here.