Downballot recommendations may be the most important thing I do on this blog these days. This post is about the four County Court races. Please see my previous post, 11th Circuit Court Judicial Election Guide – Aug 30, 2016 Ballot, for full disclosure on how I came to these decisions, and for my recommendations in the five Circuit Court elections.
Summary of County Court recommendations
Group 5: Milena Abreu (line 94)
Group 7: Ed Newman (line 97)
Group 15: Linda Luce (line 99)
Group 35: Wendell Graham (line 100)
County Court Judges
Judge Fred Seraphin (FSU Law) is being challenged by Milena Abreu (Loyola Law School, New Orleans). Judge Seraphim is notable for being the first Haitian-American Judge in Miami-Dade County; he’s also notable for being the judge who wouldn’t let an assistant public defender take a 15 minute break every few hours during a trial to pump breast milk. I find that pretty incredible, although in an interview with the Daily Business Review (now behind a paywall), Judge Seraphin claimed that this was simply a “miscommunication.” Ms. Abreu is a fairly credible opponent, with 15 years experience split between the PD’s office and private practice.
Despite several stories of being inconsiderate about lawyers’ lives or illnesses, Judge Seraphim’s bar poll numbers were good (42% exceptionally qualified, 47% qualified). Ms. Abreau only managed 23% and 54%, which isn’t bad either, but isn’t as good.
Judge Seraphim has a striking personal story, which he features on his web page; being the victim of injustice, he says, has helped him understand justice. It’s a powerful pitch.
A spokesman for the Caribbean Bar Association told the Daily Business Review on Dec 4, 2015 that,
“One of our purposes is to have more Caribbean judges, so it is a concern,” said Devona Reynolds-Perez, president-elect of the Caribbean Bar Association. “It impacts the current diversity on the bench, which is in a sorry state. So we’re sorry to hear that he drew opposition. His appointment to the bench was a historic landmark, so it would be very sad and disappointing to see him lose that seat.
Yet could it be that he deserves to lose? The Herald, unsurprisingly, endorsed the incumbent. I’m not so sure – if a judge who wasn’t an historic first had behaved like that, would we retain him? What does it mean to ‘understand justice’ if you are cruel or unfeeling to advocates in the courtroom?
I can see why a reasonable person would go with experience and a compelling life story, and vote to keep Judge Seraphim – and it is a close call – but I think I’m voting Milena Abreu (line 94) even though it will contribute to the narrative that ‘Hispanic names,’ and especially women with Hispanic names, win judicial elections in Miami-Dade.
Incumbent Ed Newman (J.D. UM) (38% exceptionally qualified, 46% qualified) is being challenged by Lizzet Martinez (J.D. Drake University) (13% exceptionally qualified, 43% qualified). For a puff piece about Judge Newman, see this Herald article about his former Dolphin teammate and baliff, Tony Nathan. I also endorsed Judge Newman when he was last up for election in 2010.
I’ve seen Judge Newman in action, and I liked what I saw. I would not call him a brilliant Judge, just a careful and fair one who ran a good courtroom. I’m voting to retain him. (Line 97.)
This is an open seat.
The candidates are Ruben Alcoba [Warning: LOUD video will start automatically] (J.D. U.M, LL.M in Tax, Thomas Jefferson School of Law) and Linda Luce (J.D. U. Puerto Rico).
Mr. Alcoba is a sole practitioner who focuses mainly on patent, trademark and immigration law. Ms. Luce has worked for Department of Children & Families juvenile delinquency unit and is now in private practice doing civil and family law. She has experience as a mediator.
The response rate on the bar poll for Mr. Alcoa was so low as to make his otherwise low score of 9% exceptionally qualified and 28% qualified almost meaningless. Ms. Luce got more respectable scores (22% and 55%) but that also was on a quite small response rate.
I confess to being less informed about this race than I’d like, but on paper Ms. Luce (line 99) has more, and more relevant, experience. That the Herald said the same thing in its endorsement of Ms. Luce makes me nervous, but there it is.
Judge Wendell Graham (J.D. UM) is being challenged, by Antonio Jimenez (J.D. Stetson).
Mr. Jimenez is a Navy veteran; his bio states that he has a couple of Masters degrees (Master of Forensic Science Degree from National University which I never heard of before, and a Master of Criminal Justice from Boston University–-I’ve heard of that).
The 35-year-old challenger only has about ten years practice experience, two and a half the Herald says as an ASA, and eight in private practice. Even though his web site boasts that “his unique background has given Mr. Jimenez the unique opportunity to understand every legal matter” (yes, every legal matter!), I don’t see why I’d prefer him to an experienced judge with good ratings from the bar (39% exceptionally qualified, 49% qualified). If the Herald is right about the two and a half years as an ASA I’d also like to know why he didn’t finish out the three years which is the ordinary commitment for an ASA. Did he jump or was he pushed? Neither is a great answer.
In any event, the case for re-electing Judge Wendell Graham (line 100) seems overwhelming.