There are four judicial elections on the August 24, 2010 ballot. 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, 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 most 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. But, as you will see, it does happen.
Today I'm writing about the two Circuit Judge contests. Next, in Part III, I'll look at the County Court races.
Circuit Judges: Group 45
Judge Adrien has a bad reputation. He got the lowest rating in the Dade County Bar Association’s judicial poll: 55% of respondents said he was 'unqualified'. That's pretty bad. And he gets reversed on basic issues of fairness to defendants that you'd think anyone would get right. See Foster v. State. Here's his Judicial Candidate Voluntary Self-Disclosure Statement. This is the rare sort of record that makes me think a judge is ready to be replaced.
Fortunately his challenger has a good record, and a fine reputation: 35.5% of respondents in the Dade County Bar Association’s judicial poll rated Samantha Ruiz Cohen as 'exceptionally qualified' for the bench and another 51.3% said she was 'qualified'. The Miami Herald endorsed Samantha Ruiz Cohen. (There doesn't appear to be a Judicial Candidate Voluntary Self-Disclosure Statement, however.) After graduating from Hofstra University School of Law in 1991 (a fact oddly absent from her campaign biography, perhaps because it's not a local law school?), she spent ten years at the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office. Then she jumped to civil litigation, and now does products liability cases in private practice. She has taught trial advocacy at the National Institute for Trial Advocacy (NITA) and constitutional law to undergrads at FIU (I'm not sure if teaching law to undergrads is a plus or minus for a judge; maybe a plus in dealing with jurors…).
I'm going to vote for Samantha Ruiz Cohen and you should too. Incidentally, Judge Adrien got on the bench in an ugly election when he defeated an exceptionally fine Judge, his predecessor, Henry Harnage. Karma, I tell you.
Circuit Judges: Group 62
There are two candidates, Monica Gordo and Robert Kuntz. There is no incumbent. Both candidates are rated highly by their fellow lawyers in the Dade County Bar Association poll: 24.7% rate Kuntz as exceptionally qualified and 53% say he is qualified while a nearly-identical 24.5% rate Gordo as exceptionally qualified and 51.3% say she is qualified.
Robert Kuntz, 50, is a former journalist. He graduated from UM law in 1996 summa cum laude (which really meant something back then) and started out at Holland & Knight. Currently he practices commercial litigation at Devine, Goodman, Pallot, Rasco & Wells, with an emphasis on aviation law. The Unity Coalition endorsed him. Local certified sane lawyer Jack Thompson hates him, which may be a good enough reason for me to vote for Kuntz right there. Here's Robert Kuntz's Judicial Candidate Voluntary Self-Disclosure Statement.
Monica Gordo is only 35, which I believe to be about the minimum age for a judge given that I want them to have some experience-based wisdom. She graduated from UM Law in 1999, cum laude (which is good, but not as good as a summa), and has worked as a prosecutor since then. She's served as a Director of the Cuban American Bar Association. I know of no reason to think she'd be anything other than a fine judge, although I don't know that the local bench suffers from a shortage of former prosecutors. The Miami Herald endorsed Gordo because she has more trial experience than Kuntz. She also got the SAVE Dade endorsement. Here's Monica Gordo's Judicial Candidate Voluntary Self-Disclosure Statement.
Based on my personal knowledge of both candidates I'd be happy with either, but I am planning to vote for Robert Kuntz. As you can see from his judicial statement and other statements he's made during the campaign, he's a thoughtful person, the sort of person one wants on the bench. I like the fact he had another career as a journalist before he went to law school as I think it provides a healthy perspective. And he's smart (don't forget that summa). It is true that Mr. Kuntz has substantially less trial experience then Ms. Gordo, but he does have extensive general litigation experience. Lawyers from the civil side frequently see fewer full trials than members of the criminal bar, but it would be wrong to staff the local judiciary wholly with lawyers who are former prosecutors, PDs, or criminal defense lawyers.
Part I: Introduction
Part II: Circuit Judges (today)
Part III: County Judges
Part IV: School Board, District 6
Part V: Miami-Dade County Charter Amendments