Category Archives: Judicial Recommendations

A Brief Note about the Florida Democratic Party’s Primary for Attorney General:

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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 both 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. 

To express my gratitude, here is a hamster looking cute.

 

 

MeelectionnightWhich Adventure Lawyer essay do you think got the most views?

a) Random picture of a hamster looking cute
b) What to do When Attacked by a Jaguar
c) Welcome to the Revolution
d) Recommendations for the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit and Broward County Judicial Bench

If you guessed “hamster,” I like the way you think.

But more than 1,200 people reviewed my “Recommendations for the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit and Broward County Judicial Bench,” dwarfing any interest in my actual adventure writing. If you also combine my recommendations for the 15th and 11th judicial circuits, my judicial political essays have attracted more than half of my blog’s traffic this month.

Either I can make voting for judge as exciting as a jaguar attack and fleeing Thai separatists in Yala, or I can make a jaguar attack and fleeing Thai separatists in Yala as boring as voting for judge.

Either way, thanks for the 3,000 views!

To express my gratitude, here is a hamster looking cute.

Recommendations for the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit and Palm Beach Judicial Bench

Richard Junnier, Esq.

Richard Junnier, Esq.

First, there are no poor candidates in this election field.

There are no kooks, crooks, clearly-unqualifieds, or those suspected of corruption. 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, reviewed the candidate’s websites.

One factor I refuse to consider is the political affiliation of any candidate.

Campaigning in Leon County during 2012 early voting

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:

15th Circuit Judges

Group 14: Diana Lewis*

Group 30: Maxine Cheesman

Palm Beach County Judges

There are no contested elections for Palm Beach County Judge.

*Denotes that the recommended candidate is also the incumbent.

Analysis of 15th Circuit Judicial Candidates:

Group 14: Diana Lewis* 

“Nothing in this Estate will be contested. This Estate would have been opened as a routine matter on this Court’s ex parte calendar but for their same-sex marriage. There is no rational basis to apply those laws to the facts of this case. Same-sex couples are entitled to respect, dignity, and protection as any other spouse. . .”         –The Hon. Diana Lewis

Diana Lewis is the judge that ruled–as it applies to probate law–Florida must recognize out-of-state same sex marriages.*

*Specifically: Florida probate law requires that the personal representative for a decedent either be a Florida resident, a family member of the decedent, or a spouse of the decedent. Florida law prohibits recognition of out-of-state same sex marriages for “any purpose.” In this case, the person applying to be personal representative for his deceased out-of-state same sex spouse was a non-resident. Judge Lewis ruled that the “any purpose” portion of Florida law is inapplicable in this situation.

You can read her ruling, and get an idea of her nuanced writing ability, here. 

Judge Lewis has served on the 11th Circuit bench since 2003–the same year her opponent graduated from law school. Prior to that, she spent twenty years as a powerhouse attorney working with firms that are synonymous with hyper-competence. The law is not her first career, she used to be an admissions counselor for Notre Dame. She volunteers regularly with religious and secular charities and serves on the Board of Trustees for her alma mater. She also serves on multiple bar committees related to the practice and policing of attorney ethics and professionalism.

(The potential irony of this is discussed at length further below.)

Her challenger is Jessica Ticktin. Although young, she has a splendid legal resume. Mrs. Ticktin has practiced law for ten years, mostly with her father’s firm, the Ticktin Law Group (you have seen their commercials) and for four years, as managing partner. She says that she oversees 24 attorneys, 4,500 cases, and 10 offices. While the firm seems to advertise its abilities in any legal situation, she concentrates in the area of family law.

I tried to find a list of civic accomplishments, examples of volunteerism, or public recognitions. Neither her law firm nor campaign websites list anything significant.

Because Judge Lewis has twenty more years legal experience, and because she actively shows her community commitment through volunteer activities and charitable work, I recommend that she be retained.

I do this with some reluctance because Judge Lewis might be a bit of a bully.

Mrs. Ticktin has advanced an aggressively negative campaign. Citing a poll of those who practice in Palm Beach, Mrs. Ticktin claims Judge Lewis has a poor judicial temperament and a bias toward defendants in civil litigation. Mrs. Ticktin also claims Judge Lewis’ decisions have the highest rate of being overturned on appeal.

Facially, that is pretty scary, so I will analyze each of those claims.

The Palm Beach practitioners’ poll is unreliable because of its dismal response rate–10.33%. Because it is unreliable, it evidences nothing. Its use in a campaign is therefore misleading. According to the Palm Beach Post, this was explained to Mrs. Ticktin by the Judicial Practices Commission of the Florida Bar Association. Despite being admonished not to do it, Mrs. Ticktin has continued to use the poll.

You can read the full article here.

However, some attorneys have said that she yells and degrades them. The anonymous online comments are truly jaw-dropping. If you’re feeling prurient, or just want to be reminded how unkind we can be toward one another, you can look at some of them here.

Others explain that she is simply impatient with lawyers who are unprepared. Her bias is not evidenced toward defendants, but merely favors attorneys who exhibit competence. Apparently, unlike some judges, she reads every scrap of paper an attorney files prior to a hearing and gets really annoyed with those appearing before her if they have not. She takes her job very seriously.

My friends (admittedly a  very small sample) who appear before her describe her as “nice” and “extremely detailed.”

She appears to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the law, but when her decisions are appealed, quizzically, more than 40% have been overturned. That sounds high and it probably is.

However, at the relevant time, she primarily presided over foreclosure cases, and if she enters a default judgment because the homeowner is too depressed to even show up to court, there is probably going to be an appellate reversal. She does not realistically have control over that.

Beyond my hypothetical example, I researched the significance of a 40% reversal rate in civil law cases.

In a regretful effort to be thorough, I examined several academic statistical analyses of appellate reversal rates in the state courts of large counties. The one I thought to be the most relevant (though still not great) is a 2006 “Special Report” of the U.S. Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics. According to the DOJ, 15% of civil trials conclude with an appeal by the losing party, of which 43% are withdrawn or dismissed prior to appellate resolution. Of those remaining appeals, approximately 33% of trial judgments are reversed in whole or in part. Focusing specifically on real property trials (which include but are not limited to foreclosure hearings), the appeal rate increases from 15% to 24%. I would tell you what of that 24% gets reversed on appeal, but the study then divides property claims into tort and contract categories making that not feasible.

The report is here.

I tried to find a specific study pertaining to appellate foreclosure reversal rates in Florida, but did not find one. However, the website for Florida Foreclosure Attorneys, PLLC details a helpful long list of foreclosure reversals.

In other words–while high, a 40% reversal rate seems to be within the bounds of normalcy for foreclosure dockets.

Because Mrs. Ticktin’s accusations are based upon an unreliable poll, anonymous internet anecdotes, and are counterbalanced by other attorneys’ anecdotes, I instead compare Judge Lewis’ more than three-decade legal career with Mrs. Ticktin’s briefer one. I also compare Judge Lewis’ active volunteerism to Mrs. Ticktin’s apparent lack of one.

With some reservation, I recommend Judge Lewis be retained.

Group 30: Maxine Cheesman

Because of her thirty-year legal career and copious pro-bono work, I was going to recommend Peggy Rowe-Linn. Despite a lack of trial experience (none of the candidates have preformed a significant amount of Florida trial work) she would surely make an excellent judge.

Similarly, Ivy-League educated Jaimie Goodman, though the bulk of his trial experience is out-of-state, seems to have an excellent temperament, and despite specializing in employment law, has a commanding general legal knowledge. This is his third campaign for judge.

But as I wrote about Mrs. Rowe-Linn’s prodigious legal career, one thought kept attacking my mind.

“I really want to recommend Maxine Cheesman.”

First, while almost every lawyer majors in political science or philosophy, (I opted for psychology with a minor in literature thereby guaranteeing my need to go to law school if I wanted a job) as an undergraduate, Ms. Cheesman received a Bachelor and Master’s degree in Chemistry. The suggestion of a mind capable of calculus and empiricism serving as a judge is downright thrilling.

A judiciary incapable of subjecting evidence to the scientific method is why I occasionally find myself working postconviction cases involving the improper admittance of clairvoyant testimony as signaled by a psychic dog. (I really do have to write about that case someday soon!)

Second, although the span of her legal career is less than half that of Mrs. Rowe-Lynn, she has practiced law for ten years. And for that ten years she has concentrated on advancing the cause of the defenseless and the oppressed. She won the Palm Beach Bar Association’s 2012 “And Justice for All” Award for providing high quality pro-bono work to the Palm Beach community. It is no surprise that the law is Ms. Cheesman’s second career. Prior to launching her civil litigation firm in 2005, she spent 27 years in the public sector, including 15 years as a division head at the South Florida Water Management District.

Third, she consistently answers questions in the most fantastically awesome way. When asked what is the most important quality in selecting a judge, most will answer “a knowledge of the law.” When asked, Ms. Cheesman offered what I believe to be the almost never mentioned, but correct, answer–“patience.”

(That is from an interview with West Boca News.) 

I believe that Ms. Cheesman’s ten years of legal experience, supplemented with her rare and needed background in science, a 27 year public service career, and eloquent understanding of judicial temperament amid chaotic caseloads, make her at least as qualified as Mrs. Rowe-Linn.

All other things therefore being equal, Maxine Cheesman is a native of Jamaica. As the Afro-Caribbean community continues to grow in south Florida, it is time that a highly accomplished representative from that community be elevated to the Bench of the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit.

This is intended to further the public interest of having a judiciary as diverse as the society it judges.

Or as it powerfully states on Ms. Cheesman’s campaign website: “You have the power to chose who judges you.”

I recommend Maxine Cheesman.

What are your recommendations? Please share in the comments section below.

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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. 

Recommendations for the Eleventh Judicial Circuit and Miami-Dade Judicial Bench

Richard Junnier, Esq.

Richard Junnier, Esq.

First, there are no poor candidates in this election field.  There are no kooks, crooks, clearly-unqualifieds, or those suspected of corruption. (Though the Group 70 race offers candidates who come uncomfortably close.) 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, reviewed the candidate’s websites.

One factor I refuse to consider is the political affiliation of any candidate.

Campaigning in Leon County during 2012 early voting

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:

11th Circuit Judges

Group 16: Thomas Aquinas Cobitz

Group 26: Rodney “Rod” Smith*

Group 27: Mary Gomez

Group 58: Oscar Rodriguez-Fonts

Group 67: Fleur Jeannine Lobree*

Group 70: Veronica Diaz

Miami-Dade County Judges

Group 19: Jacqueline Schwartz*

Group 36: Nuria Saenz*

*Denotes that the recommended candidate is also the incumbent.

Analysis of 11th Circuit Judicial Candidates:

Group 16: Thomas Aquinas Cobitz Both candidates in this race are highly qualified and admired in the legal community. Mr. Cobitz has spent nearly 25 years both as a prosecutor and in private practice. He is also a renowned volunteer in his community. He is a crime watch volunteer, Chair of the Miami Civilian Investigation Panel, and Vice Chair of the Miami-Dade County Criminal Court Committee. His Florida Bar service includes his role as Chair of the Florida Supreme Court’s Traffic Court Rules Committee. He has also worked as both a hearing officer and as a magistrate.

Stephen Millan has also been a prosecutor and a solo-practitioner–mainly specializing in criminal and immigration law. Although his legal career has been impressive, I have failed to identify any extracurricular activities suggesting a serious commitment to public service, particularly when compared to Mr. Cobitz’s near-non-stop volunteerism. The Miami Harold’s endorsement of Mr. Millan includes “As the father of five sons ages 9 through 16, we suspect Mr. Millan knows a thing or two about mediation and listening to both sides.” Being a parent is very challenging, but parental status does not actually evidence qualification for judicial office. Mr. Cobitz has proven his ability to “mediate” through being a hearing officer and magistrate–surely that’s the qualification more relevant to evidence someone’s mediation ability.

You can read the Herald’s endorsement of Mr. Cobitz here.

Mr. Cobitz has several other endorsements, including one which incites concern. Mr. Cobitz is endorsed by the Florida Family Coalition–an ultra right wing cornucopia of hate and homophobia. You can read various statements issued by the Florida Family Coalition here

Under the topic “Homosexual Agenda.” You can read about all the judicial candidates FFC supports, here.

I recommend Thomas Aquinas Cobitz.

Group 26: Rodney “Rod” Smith*

Judge Rodney Smith was also endorsed by the FFC, but his opponent, Christian Carrazana, a personal injury lawyer who was fired from his firm when he refused to withdrawal his candidacy, has a very thin legal resume and I have been unable to identify any extracurricular activities commemorating a staunch commitment to public service.

Judge Smith meanwhile has experience both as a county and circuit court judge and has an extensive record of community volunteerism and public service. I recommend Judge Rodney Smith be retained.

Group 27: Mary Gomez

Both candidates in this race are highly accomplished and respected.

Mary Gomez graduated in the top 3% of her class and has approximately 20 years experience. She has even endured a stint at prestigious Carlton Fields (they don’t hire people unless they are hyper-competent). Her community commitment is evidenced with her work for a religious charity and organizations which assist the homeless and victims of sex trafficking. She has a reputation for a very even-temperament, which no doubt has served her well in her family law practice. She has also served as a mediator and magistrate. She has been endorsed by the homophobic Florida Family Collation but has exercised excellent judgment in refusing to acknowledge it on her endorsement’s page.

Alberto Milian has been a career prosecutor with an 80% conviction rate. He has also served in the Army Reserve for 18 years, ultimately as a military intelligence captain. He has volunteered overseas twice. While I deeply respect his service, his reputation in the legal community is questionable with allegations of being overzealous (causing at least one conviction to be overturned) and discourteous (if not explosive) toward defense attorneys. He has twice run for State Attorney and lost.

You can read a slip opinion discussing one instance of Mr. Milian’s alleged temper here.

Please keep in mind this is from an incident in the distant past.

While Mr. Milian is a highly accomplished advocate and has served our country honorably, I recommend the even-tempered and decorous Mary Gomez.

Group 58: Oscar Rodriguez-Fonts

Both candidates in this race are highly qualified and have demonstrated extraordinary community commitment. Oscar Rodriguez-Fonts served as an Assistant City Attorney for Miami, which assures he has a multiplicity of high-volume civil litigation experience. He has also been an assistant public defender which means he has a solid background in criminal law. He has been a staffer for two U.S. congressmen, and his bar service includes Chair of the Florida Bar Grievance Committee–this is the committee that hears complaints against lawyers. He also donates his time to many local non-profits.

Martin Zilber has practiced law with distinction for more than twenty-five years. His practice includes mediation services and he has worked for sundry law firms. He performed a brief internship with the state attorney’s office while in law school. His community involvement is impressive–including several appointments to citizen advisory boards and the Super Bowl Host Committee.

Though the Miami Herald endorsed Mr. Zilber based upon his experience as a traffic court hearing officer, I believe Mr. Rodriguez-Fonts’ experience as Chair of the Florida Bar Grievance Committee is a much more impressive display of quasi-judicial experience. (It is also a very hard position to get.)

You can find the Herald’s recommendation here.

I recommend Oscar Rodriguez-Fonts.

Group 67: Fleur Jeannine Lobree*

Judge Fleur Jeannine Lobree has practiced law for twenty-two years. First as a Florida assistant attorney general, then as a judicial clerk for the Third DCA, then as an assistant state attorney, and finally in private practice as a civil litigator. She was appointed to the county court, and when, one year later, she lost reelection to her seat, the legal community grieved her loss. She was subsequently appointed to the Circuit Court.

Mavel Ruiz has spent her entire career helping the defenseless and the oppressed. She has served as an assistant public defender, owned a criminal defense practice, and currently works one of the most thankless but very necessary legal positions in creation–the Office of Regional Conflict Counsel. No sane person should suggest that she lacks a heart of gold and is one of the more exemplary members of our species. She would probably make an excellent city commissioner or legislator.

Nevertheless, due to her more diverse experience, including prior judicial experience, I recommend that Fleur Jeannine Lobree be retained.

Group 70: Veronica Diaz

For some this may be a difficult vote. Veronica Diaz has spent time working with non-profits and seven years as a Miami assistant city attorney–which typically allows for a range of civil litigation experience. However, she has been accused of an only-very-barely legal impropriety involving sending city business, through a third party, to her fiance’s law firm–without telling anyone.

You can read the Miami Herald’s account here.

Renier Diaz de la Portilla is a controversial politician, has a mediation business, and very little legal experience. Based upon his statements as a school board member, his understanding of the separation of church and state is questionable. (He proposed a bible study course for public schools–though, of course, this may have just been politics and not reflective of what he would do as a judge.)

Both candidates are thirty-six and neither offers an overwhelming wealth of judicial experience.

Despite the allegations against Ms. Diaz, she was not determined to have violated the ethics rules. Also, the City Attorney asserted that she herself was the one who made the decision to hire Ms. Diaz’s fiancé’s firm.

Because of her superior legal experience, I recommend Veronica Diaz.

Analysis of Miami-Dade County Judicial Candidates:

Group 19: Jacqueline Schwartz*

Judge Jacqueline Schwartz has served on the Miami-Dade bench for twelve years after having spent many years as a trial attorney. She is a “big sister,” vice president of a local charity that provides clothing to victims of child abuse, organizes the annual “Law Day” for school children, and spent several years as an adjunct law professor.   Troublingly, she is also endorsed by the FFC (though she wisely makes no mention of it).

She has two challengers. Frank Bocanegra was admitted to practice law in 2008. Prior to joining the Bar, he served thirty years as an incredibly respected and accomplished law enforcement officer (retired a major) and has also briefly served as town manager of Miami Lakes. Rachel Dooley has practiced for more than 16 years both as a prosecutor and in private practice. Her endorsements include the League of Prosecutors and SAVE PAC (a respected marriage equality advocacy group). Neither opponent seem to have a remarkable record of volunteerism or record of organized nonlegal-related public service.

Both of her opponents are qualified, but Judge Schwartz has served without controversy for twelve years, consistently closes more cases than any other county judge, and frequently finds time to volunteer in the community.

I recommend Judge Jacqueline Schwartz be retained.

Group 36: Nuria Saenz*

While Judge Jacqueline Schwartz may close the most cases, Nuria Saenz consistently has the least number of pending cases. She has served on the county bench since 2005 without controversy. Prior to her judicial service she has served as a magistrate and as a general and special master. She began her career working for Legal Aid despite being in a position to accept much higher paying jobs in the private sector. Like myself, but only a few others, while in law school she served both as a Law Review editor and as a member of the moot court. (Serving on a Law Review or on the Moot Court are highly prestigious, very competitive, and tremendously time consuming. In any given year only a handful of law students in the state get appointed to both.)

Victoria Ferrer is a real-estate broker and has practiced law for about eight years. While in law school she clerked for a local probate judge. She is also, by all accounts, very eloquent and passionate about people.

Judge Saenz’s experience makes her the more qualified candidate and I recommend that she be retained.

What are your recommendations? Please share in the comments section below!

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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. 

Recommendations for the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit and Broward County Judicial Bench

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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

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:

Group 8:

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 disagree.

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.

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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.