Category Archives: Miami

Downballot Guide – Miami-Dade 2014

Lots of ink gets spilled on the Governor’s race. But the ballot we face in the election on Aug. 26 is complex, and has a lot of important races on it. This post covers the downballot – the judicial elections. I also have a separate post on the primaries and non-political races for the executive branch but if you’re reading this you probably made up your own mind on most of those races. These are more obscure to most voters.

There are eight judicial elections on the August 24, 2010 ballot in Miami-Dade (see your sample ballot here). Unlike most law professors I know, I support the idea of judicial elections at the state level as a reasonable democratic check on what I believe should be the expansive power of judges to interpret the state and federal constitutions. Although as you’ll see below, that opinion is being very sorely tested by one the contests in this election.

As I’ve said before, if it were up to me, I’d have the executive branch pick judges with legislative confirmation, followed by a California-style retention election every few years in which there would be an up or down vote on the incumbent. If the vote was down, the executive would pick a new judge. It seems to me that the right question is “has this judge done a good (enough) job” — something voters might be able to figure out — rather than asking voters to try to guess from electoral statements which of two or more candidates might be the best judge.

Florida’s system, however, pits one or more challengers against the incumbent or else, lacking opposition, the incumbent wins reelection automatically (as happened with many of the judges whose terms expired this year). There are also open seats when the incumbent retires. My personal view is that I will vote for an incumbent judge unless there’s reason to believe they’re doing a bad job. Fortunately, that only happens occasionally – and isn’t an issue this year.

After supporting incumbents, my other rule of thumb in sizing up candidates before even getting to the details of biography and practice experience is that in all but the rarest cases of other important life experience we ought to require at least ten years of legal experience from our lawyers before even considering them as judges. Fifteen years is better. I will very rarely support a judicial candidate fewer than ten years out of law school. It just isn’t enough to get the experience and practical wisdom it takes to be a judge.

Circuit Judge, Group 16

Thomas Cobitz v. Stephen Millan. Open seat. Two candidates with a lot of legal experience. They both sound pretty good. The Herald endorsed Millan (more than 20 years experience) but so too did the Christian Family Coalition. To be honest I don’t know that much about either of them and thus don’t feel confident about this one. Cobitz (UM JD ’89) served years as an administrative traffic hearing officer, was also vice chair of the Dade County Bar Association Criminal Courts Committee, and is a member of the City of Miami Civilian Investigative Panel, which gives him more community chops than Millan. AFAIK, SAVE Dade didn’t endorse in this race. An attorney poll found that slightly more lawyers rated Cobitz Exceptionally Qualified or Qualified than Millan (23/57 to 18/59).

Circuit Judge, Group 26

Judge Rodney Smith is not only the incumbent but by almost all accounts a very good judge. Accept no substitutes. Almost everyone, the Herald, SAVE Dade, Christian Family Coalition included endorses Smith. Even Rumpole likes him. The one negative is the murmuring that he’s too friendly to insurance companies, being a former employee of Untied Auto (a big supporter – expending $227,000 – in independent expenditures in support of his campaign). Indeed, that insurance tie – to a not-very-claims-friendly company – seems to be the main reason some people support challenger Christian Carranana’s campaign (14 years out of law school). Even so, I’m sticking with the incumbent.

Circuit Judge, Group 27

Mary Gomez vs. “Al” Milian. Open seat. Gomez has 19 years courtroom, mostly in Family Law, experience. She has, according to the Herald, a track record of good works in the community. Milian – son of a prominent Cuban exile leader – is not IMHO very impressive. I didn’t care for him at all when he ran against Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle a decade ago – and regular readers will know that I’d be all in for a serious challenger to KFR. He wasn’t it. AFAIK he still isn’t it. The Herald endorsed Gomez and I agree. SAVE Dade endorsed Milian…despite his being famous for a 1993 incident in which he referred to jurors as “lobotomized zombies”(leading to criticism from the 4thDCA) and “buffoons”. OK, 1993 was a long time ago. But still. A judge? Really? The attorney poll put Gomez a bit ahead of Milian (Exceptionally Qualified/Qualified was 13/51 Gomez to 13/41 Milian).

Circuit Judge, Group 58

Open seat. Martin Zilber v. Oscar Rodriguez-Fonts. Both are in their early 50s. Zilber is in private practice. Rodriguez-Fonts is a former assistant city of Miami attorney and Miami-Dade public defender. Both the Herald and SAVE Dade endorsed Zilber. I’ll go along with the crowd here.

Circuit Judge, Group 67

Judge Fleur Jeannine Lobre is the incumbent, but was appointed to fill out a term so she’s yet to win an election in her own right. The cognoscenti think she’ll lose becasue voters think she has a funny name, and the challenger, Mavel Ruiz, 53, a criminal defense attorney and former assistant public defender, doesn’t. While word among lawyers on Judge Lobre is not as wildly positive as the word about Judge Smith in group 26, it’s fairly positive on balance, and certainly doesn’t rise anywhere near to the level that gets me to vote against an incumbent judge. (I promise this isn’t because Lobre is a UM Law Grad!) Both the Herald and SAVE Dade endorsed Lobre.

Circuit Judge, Group 70

This race is the main reason why I’ve delayed writing this guide so long. I really don’t like either candidate. On one side we have Renier Diaz de la Portiilla, charmingly slimed by his detractors as the Fredo of his very political family. On the other side we have Veronica Diaz, from the Miami City Attorney’s office, who is also the subject of a slime campaign. Both sides have been working the bloggers and working the mailers to voters. I got a handful.

Trouble is, both candidates have biographies that provide material. Diaz has more experience as a lawyer but the ethics mud sorta sticks. Renier Diaz de la Portiilla is a former member of the Miami-Dade School Board, where his tenure is remembered for his proposal that the public schools offer Bible study. He followed that with a plan to drug test students – that one passed. In a sign of the electorate’s good sense, he’s been an unsuccessful candidate for other political offices since then. He’s been late to file various electoral-related papers such as a campaign finance report. A somewhat debatable ethics complaint just got filed against him – almost certainly by people associated with the Diaz campaign. And his current employment as a lawyer – with well less than a decade’s experience – has been notable for its very low earnings of under $40k/ year, suggesting a certain lack of free-market demand for his services. Diaz on the other hand has some sleazy items in her biography. She was one of many public employees to accept free VIP tickets ($900 face value) from the Ultra festival – a firm that did business with her employer. She also escaped censure on allegations that she got a third party to send city work to her fiancé’s law firm – in substantial part because the county code does not consider a fiancé to be an immediate family member subject to its anti-nepotism rules.

This really is a sorry choice. It makes the case for appointing Judges about as strongly as any Judicial race in recent memory. The bar poll is a sorry sight: Exceptionally Qualified/Qualified is 14/34 for Diaz with 54% saying unqualified. But RDLP’s scores were 8/29 with 62% (!!!!) saying ‘unqualified’. Yes, even worse than Diaz.

The Herald endorsed RDLP, althought it admitted that he “doesn’t necessarily inspire the confidence of having deep and broad experience that voters should have in those they send to the bench.” SAVE Dade endorsed Diaz. I’ve gone back and forth, back and forth on this one, and finally ended up, I think, resolved to vote for Diaz, mostly on the basis that she’s at least more likely to know how to run a courtroom while RDLP himself only claims to have litigated a few cases. But what a choice to have to make.

County Judge, Group 19

There are three candidates. Jacqueline Schwartz is the incumbent. She’s endorsed by the Herald – and by the Christian Family coalition. The challengers are Rachel Glorioso Dooley (17 years experience) and Frank Bocanegra (six (!) years experience). Again, I’m voting incumbent. Then again, Dooley has support in the bar and outpolled Swartz on competence: 39% saying Schwarz was not qualified but only 21% saying that of Dooley. Dooley was endorsed by the league of prosecutors. There’s some case for a change here, but not quite enough for me.

County Judge, Group 36

Nuria Saenz is the incumbent. Victoria Ferrer (only 9 years experience) is the challenger. I don’t know much about Saenz, but most of what I know is positive and her bar poll scores were better than Ferrer’s, of whom 42% of the lawyers polled said she was unqualified. The Herald endorsed Saenz. The Christian Family Coalition endorsed Ferrer. From my point of view this is no contest: a competent incumbent vs. a lawyer without enough experience. (Saenz does get criticized for having strong support from United Auto while having many cases involving it on her docket. But that’s how our system works when we have elected judges.)

Posted in 2014 Election, Miami | Leave a comment

Election Day is Today

There’s an election in Miami-Dade today.

In case you care about my views on the top of the ballot here they are. I find, though, that people are usually more interested in my comments on the judicial elections. My Miami-Dade 2014 downballot recommendations are in a separate post.

Governor – Democratic Primary

This unusual primary pits a Democrat against a DINO. I plan to vote for Nan Rich – a candidate so qualified that at least one of my Republican friends who has worked with her says he’d vote her against any Republican. I was very disappointed to see SAVE Dade endorse Charlie Crist when Rich’s record on rights is loads better. Can’t trust anybody these days.

Attorney General – Democratic Primary

George Sheldon v. Perry Thurston has been a somewhat under-the-radar race. Both candidates seem to have virtues. I’m voting Thurston, the outgoing Democratic minority leader in the Florida House of Representatives, primarily because I agree with his critique of Pam Bondi’s conduct in office. This has nothing to do with it. Really. The Herald endorsed Sheldon, and he’d be good too, as he has lots of relevant experience from his years as deputy attorney general under Bob Butterworth as well as national experience from his two years at HHS. (I can’t say, though, that I see his tenure at the DFC under Gov. Crist as much of a recommendation.)

Miami-Dade Property Appraiser

A real head-scratcher. There are five candidates, and a run-off is likely on Nov. 4 if no one gets a majority. The candidates are:

  • Albert Armada, a professional appraiser;
  • Alex Dominguez, a pharmaceutical sales representative and former appraiser;
  • former Property Appraiser Pedro Garcia, who lost the job to Lopez-Cantera in 2012 and wants it back now that Lopez-Canera has been appointed Lt. Governor;
  • Carlos Gobel, a real-estate consultant, MBA who claims to be the only candidate in the race with an “active office”.
  • State Rep. Eddy Gonzalez, a Hialeah Republican who is term-limited in Tallahassee. He’s got the most money, but seems unattractive as a candidate for this job to which he brings little relevant in the way of knowledge or experience.

I went to a debate a couple of weeks ago sponsored by Salad – the Spanish-American League Against Discrimination. Gonzales didn’t show. The others presented a confusing picture, partly because this isn’t an office well-suited to being elected. The challenge to candidates is that voters presumably want lower property taxes, i.e. lower appraised house values. But to promise this directly would be to pander in such a disgusting way as to disqualify oneself for office. What to do? The better candidates talked about management — and persuaded me that there’s lots of scope for improvement.

I would say that Dominguez and Gobel were the more impressive of the four. Dominguez was a surprise as my expectations were low – he has the least directly relevant experience as an appraiser, and is a two-time loser for public office. But he spun that to his advantage, suggesting he had relevant experience as a manger and wouldn’t be out there valuing property anyway – the Appraiser runs a big office. And he was pretty good at selling his desire to serve in public office as a desire to serve, rather than as pure ambition. Both he and Gobel seemed well-informed. Dominguez had great charts and data designed to emphasize key points about what needed fixing. Gobel separated himself from Dominguez by saying that he, Gobel, had no ambitions for any other office. My notes of the event suggest, however, that I found Dominguez the most persuasive, something that still surprises me after the fact. On paper he didn’t seem like close to the best choice but in person he seemed very well informed at least about the big picture issues.

The Herald endorsed Armada which is also a surprise: in the debate I attended he was the one pandering, saying that if he was in charge the office would go “to the lower end of the value range” to establish market value. “We should always assess towards the lower end of range.” That sort of pandering is enough to disqualify him for my vote. He recovered a bit, saying the real money was in commercial property, but I was not soothed.

I would advise against voting for Gonzalez or for Garcia (who despite his passion and pure heart, didn’t do such a great job in his first term). As I said above, I think Armada crossed the line into pandering too much for my taste. That leaves a choice: a highly credentialed professional appraiser in Gobel or a guy who may be on the make, or may just be what it takes to shake up the office (or may be both), in Dominguez. My notes say that I didn’t much like Gobel’s tone, but when I review what I wrote about what he actually said, it all sounds very reasonable (including his dig at Armada, ‘don’t promise to under-assess – that hurts tax collection’). I just might vote for Dominguez.

County Commission District 8

This ostensibly non-partisan race pits exemplary candidate Daniella Levine Cava against incumbent Lynda Bell. It’s hard to bring oneself to describe all the awfulness that is Bell. She is shifty. She lies. She votes to benefit her relatives rather than recuse herself. I donated to the Cava campaign even though I don’t live in the 8th District. Boy do I hope she wins.

Next: The Judges

Posted in 2014 Election, Florida, Miami | 1 Comment

A Mystery: Miami Property Values Seem Immune to Climate Change Risk

There’s been a lot of news recently about the dire effects climate change can have on Miami, yet not only has the risk not been priced into real estate but values are rising. What’s up? Are climate change deniers that rich, or is something else going on? Is the risk seen as so far out as to be discounted to zero?

It’s flat here, there’s a lot of coastline, and a sea level rise of only a few feet would turn Coral Gables into New Venice. Even a foot and a half — which apparently has a decent change of happening in the next decade or three — would be very bad for Miami Beach, and also for much of South Florida in that it could impact water supplies and swamp power plants.

How then to explain why none of this is priced into the real estate market? Not only are house prices mostly going up after perhaps over-reacting to the the foreclosure crisis, but so too are waterfront land prices, as evidenced by this $100 million/acre sale of the last piece of undeveloped waterfront in downtown (total price for 1.25 acres was $125 million).

Yes, it could be a bubble. Yes, it could be the musical chairs phenomenon where the buyer thinks they can flip it, or develop it, before the music stops. Or it could be that the buyers watch too much Fox News, or have their own climate scientists.

I’d really like to know what’s going on here — if only because I (co)own a house. Any ideas?

Posted in Econ & Money, Miami | 4 Comments

Weird Water Comes to Coral Gables

This strange sign popped up on an official signpost less than two blocks from where I live:

smartwatercsi

In case it’s too small to read you can click for a bigger one, or take my word for it that at the top it says, “Working in partnership to deter crime.”  Then it has a Coral Gables Police badge next to the seal of the City of Coral Gables, along with the logo for “SmartwaterCSI”.  And the sign says, “Theives Beware.  You are entering an area where Property is forensically protetcted by SmartWater®.”

If you follow the URL on the sign and click around about, eventually you get to the “about” Smartwatercsi page which informs me that,

SmartWater is an asset protection system in the form of a clear liquid which contains a unique forensic code that is extremely robust and guaranteed to last a minimum of 5 years within all weather conditions. It is applied to items of value – personal, commercial, and industrial – which are frequently the target of theft.

The non-hazardous patented liquid leaves a long-lasting identifying mark that is invisible except under ultraviolet black light. Law enforcement officials take the smallest micro-fragment of SmartWater from stolen property and send it to SmartWater’s forensic laboratories, where it is scientifically analyzed to identify the owner.

As a result, thieves who make the mistake of targeting SmartWater marked-assets face a far greater risk of successful prosecution. Ultimately, as the statistics over the past 15 years exhibit, crime is reduced and the public enjoys a safer environment.

More clicking brings me to the price list: $100 (well, $99 before tax) for a bottle of the stuff and a one-year license — apparently you have to keep paying the $100 every year to maintain your entry in their database, even though the coating is supposed to last for five years. Or you could pay $200 (per year!) for a what I suppose is a larger bottle that does your car, or at least key parts of it that don’t have a VIN. Oh yes, you also get stickers to show off you think you have lots of valuable stuff worth stealing deter really up-to-date thieves.

Nowhere on the Smartwatercsi site (that I got sent to by the sign on public land) does it reveal a secret disclosed in this video that I found by doing some Googling: apparently by calling 305-441-5760 Coral Gables residents can get a “smartwater kit” for $30 (no mention of the annual fee after that, though). I called that number and got a recording telling me I’d reached the Coral Gables Citizens Crimewatch, they were unable to answer the phone but they are there to serve and assist me in any way, so I should my name and number and they’d get back to me.

More Googling revealed a Coral Gables police press release dated Feb. 12, 2014 that says you should call 305-476-7957 for the $30 offer. (It may have come out in February but this is the first I ever heard of it.) That number took me to what proclaims itself as the Coral Gables Police Department Smwartwater hotline. I’m going to rate the hotline water temperature at only lukewarm, given that this too was a recording that wanted my name and number and would get back to me.

So what I want to know — since both Wikipedia and Bruce Schneier tells me it’s for real1 — is

  1. Are these guys paying the City for the right to put up these signs? Or is the idea that we get the 70% discount in exchange for a lot of publicity on official buildings and spaces
  2. How many people in Coral Gables have actually signed up for this?
  3. Is the $30 Coral Gables price a one-time fee, or will there be annual charges too? Is there enough to cover your car? Or at least those headlamps that get stolen so often? Do you get all the stuff in the $100 pack or just a bottle and applicator?
  4. If there are ongoing annual charges, does the City have any guarantees about future price increases? Is there a danger Smartwatercsi will raise the price of the required annual user fee (if there is one) once they have a big installed base?
  5. Does the fact that a sign appeared nearby mean someone around here actually bought the stuff?
  6. If so, did they pay the $30 or the $100?
  7. Has anyone ever paid $100/year for this?
  8. Why don’t the signs–on public land, presumably set up with the City’s permission–direct you to a web page which discloses the Coral Gables discount?
  9. If someone from Coral Gables goes to the Smartwatercsi site not knowing about the discount and tries to make a purchase, will Smartwatercsi tell them about it?
  10. Does the Smartwater beverage company know about this?

Actually, I’m kidding about the last one – a drink and a crime deterrent are sufficiently dissimilar to make a likelihood of confusion as to the mark highly unlikely, and of course the website (but not the product) has “CSI” at the end of it. Wait, does the TV show know about this?


  1. Although Bruce also came up with a great hack to misuse it:
    The idea is for me to paint this stuff on my valuables as proof of ownership. I think a better idea would be for me to paint it on your valuables, and then call the police.

    []

Posted in Coral Gables | Leave a comment

Karma?

Somehow it seems fitting that it should be the USS Miami nuclear attack submarine that got scrapped yesterday because, well, a shipyard employee trying to get out of work set it on fire, causing $700 million in damage.

Posted in Miami, National Security | Leave a comment

Annals of Town/Gown Relations

Smart university Presidents know how to butter up local government officials.

The online Herald only has the boring version of the story, UM, Coral Gables tout partnership at annual meeting, in which town and gown recited their talking points about their accomplishments in the past year. That story ends, however, with this:

The manager listed his sole complaint, and addressed it to Pat Whitely, vice president for student affairs and a guiding force behind the new SAC and its rebuilt Rathskeller. “Those delicious onion rings that sustained me through my college days are no longer on the menu,” he said. Salerno was a UM student in the 1970s when the old Rat was a hub of activity and for gastronomical pursuits.

Shalala laughed, suggesting she’d look into the omission.

The followup by Howard Cohen is in today’s print edition, Page 3B, and it’s more interesting than spoken equivalent of joint press releases:

City Manager Inspires Onion Rings

For the most part, University of Miami and CoralGables officials had nothing but praise for each other at the annual meeting last week.

The exception: Gables City Manger Pat Salerno found something missing from the Rathskeller at UM’s new $46.5 million Student Activities Center.

“Those delicious onion rings that sustained me through my college days are no longer on the menu,” Salerno lamented. UM President Donna Shalala chucked, suggesting she’d look into it.

The next day, the school announced that onions rings would return as a a special menu item when students hit classes in January. Salerno has a standing invitation to come taste test.

“I will add this item to the city’s list of accomplishments for this year,” he said. “I can’t wait to eat them.”

UM says the new snack will get a new name, too: SalernOrings.

Previously:

Posted in Coral Gables, U.Miami | Leave a comment

Miami at Night

Here is a photo of Miami at night because it has pretty clouds, and because I needed a test photo to see if I’ve fixed various blog issues.

Miami-at-night

Photo by James Good on Flickr and licensed subject to Creative Commons Attribution, Noncommercial, No Derivative Works license.

Posted in Discourse.net, Miami | 2 Comments