There’s an election on Aug. 28, and vote-by-mail-ballots dropped a week ago so it’s time for me to offer a voter guide. I’m starting with the judicial elections because those are the ones that get the least attention — but they matter. Plus a lot of folks ask me for them, and I’ve come to suspect that these judicial recommendations may be the most (only?) important thing I do on this blog these days.
Summary of recommendations
- Circuit Court
- Group 8: David Miller (line 131)
- Group 14: Renee Gordon (line 133)
- Group 25: Yery Marrero (line 135)
- County Court
- Group 2: Kristy Nunez (line 138)
- Group 32: Lizzet Martinez (line 140)
- Group 33: Olanike “Nike” Adebayo (line 142)
- Group 40: Michael Barket (line 144) (!)
- Group 43: Milena Abreu (line 146)
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.
As I’ve said often 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 uses appointment plus retention elections for Supreme Court Justices and District Court of Appeal Judges, but not for trial courts. The Governor can appoint judges to fill vacancies between elections, but otherwise those jobs are straight up elected, so this election pits one or more challengers against the incumbent unless, lacking opposition, the incumbent wins reelection automatically; some trial judges were indeed unopposed this year. There are also open seats when the incumbent retires.
My recommendations are based on:
- My personal view that I will vote for an incumbent judge unless there’s reason to believe he/she is doing a bad job.
- 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.
- I look to see if the candidate filed a voluntary self-disclosure form with the state. I prefer candidates who take the trouble to fill out the form and give thoughtful replies. Normally I also look hard at the Dade County Bar Association Poll in which lawyers rate the candidates’ qualifications. The response rate is not that great on this poll, but I do think that if there’s a large majority one way or the other that tells me something. Unfortunately, this year the poll isn’t being released until tomorrow, and I’m already getting email from folks with mail-in ballots wanting my recommendations, so here they are. If something dramatic comes out of the poll, I’ll do an update.
- If all else fails, I look at the Miami Herald’s view, although frankly I think the decision-makers there are so terrified of annoying establishment candidates that their endorsement only means something if they buck an incumbent. And when did that last happen?
- And oh yes, I read local blogs and listen to gossip too.
There are three Circuit Court elections and five County Court elections in Miami-Dade. Both are trial courts, but the County Courts have a more limited jurisdiction, comprising Misdemeanors, small claims up to $5,000, civil disputes up to $15,000, and traffic court. Circuit Courts also hear some appeals from County Courts, while others go straight to the DCA’s, the District Courts of Appeal.
Here are my suggestions how to vote if you live in Miami-Dade County:
The candidates are incumbent David C. Miller and challenger Elisabeth Espinosa, formerly an ASA and now a partner at Cole, Scott & Kissane, a big insurance-defense firm. Espinosa has only a decade’s experience as a lawyer. Judge Miller has a good rep at least for the past few years on the civil side (Justice Building blog complains of his “Maximum Miller” history when on the criminal side). Espinosa’s firm tried to get Miller recused on all their cases when she filed to run against him, which is dirty pool, and justly failed. It does raise the question to what extent her candidacy was a ploy to designed to get him off their cases–if true, surely a great recommendation for Judge Miller right there. The Miami Herald endorsed Miller too.
No-brainer: re-elect Judge David C. Miller (line 131).
The three candidates are Vivianne del Rio, Renee Gordon, and Louis Martinez. I endorsed Renee Gordon the last time she ran, noting that she is is a “former Public Defender who has been litigating for 20+ years, of which twelve were in private practice. She also has a long resume of working with troubled children in various managerial and legal capacities. This is a great background for a Judge – in the trenches and there for a long time.” She almost won last time, and I’ll vote for her again. That said, both other candidates, Louis Martinez and Vivianne del Rio, sound like people who would make decent judges. Del Rio is an ASA, Martinez is a former AUSA. FWIW, the Herald endorses Gordon too
For experience and demonstrated compassion, vote Rene Gordon (line 133).
Yery Narrero (JD Loyola N.O.) has 29 years of trial experience as a lawyer, some of which he spent as a Traffic Court Magistrate, the rest in private practice. He lists his public service as: “Board Chair, St Stephen’s Episcopal Day School : involved in a capital campaign to enhance the growth of the school (2015-present); President, Homeowners Association; Board Member, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund; Youth Leader: St Stephens Episcopal Church”.
Joe Perkins has only 11 years experience since his JD from Boston University School of law. That’s on the low end of what I will accept but not disqualifying. He lists his pro bono service as “Children of Inmates–collect toys (every year) and hosted event in home (2015) to collect toys for children of inmates; various pro bono cases (routinely), including successfully resolving foreclosure litigation against a religious institution in an impoverished community. Miami Children’s Initiative (2051) — contributed manual labor to build playground in impoverished community National Black College Alliance (2007) – helped high school students prepare their college application essays. I volunteered with various immigration causes while in college and in law school.”
On paper, Marrero (line 135) wins hand down. Both the Herald and Justice Building Blog, who’ve actually met them, seem to agree.
Candidates are Rosy Aponte and I was pretty negative then due to lack of experience and (contested) issues relating to a dismissed bar complaint. I haven’t heard anything new to make me more positive. Fortunately, Nunez, an ASA with 12 years experience looks a lot better. The Herald and Justice Building Blog agree.
Vote Kristy Nunez (line 138).
Lizzet Martinez vs. Christopher “Chris” Pracitto. They both look very competent on paper. Pracitto has 23 years experience since graduating from U.M. Law in 1995, all of it as a trial attorney in the County Court, and he’s running on that experience. Martinez has 20 years experience in private practice herself, since graduating from Drake University Law School. She says she’s handled over 1100 family law cases in that time “most of which involved litigation.” Her self-disclosure form shows a very long list of pro-bono activities including: Board Member, American Children’s Orchestra for Peace; Youth Co-op; Introduction to Florida law for Newly Arrived Immigrants; Kristi House, Volunteer; pro bono Guardian ad Litem; Dade County Bar Assoc. Legal Line, and more.
Pracitto’s list of pro-bono activities in his 23 years of practice is blank. Yes, blank.
So I’m voting for Lizzet Martinez even if Pracitto is a UM grad. He sounds very competent, but Martinez offers two decades of service in addition to competence. The Herald endorsed Martinez. Justice Building Blog went for the guy who “knows his way around the courthouse.”
I’m voting for Lizzet Martinez (line 140).
Olanike “Nike” Adebayo (JD UM) vs. Eleane Sosa-Bruzon (who didn’t file a disclosure statement). Adebayo has 20 years experience, including time as an ASA (rising to chief of litigation for the juvenile division), and has served as a bar association official, and on the Board of Legal Services of Greater Miami. She describes her practice as 75% criminal law and 25% civil (family and forfeitures). The Herald describes Eleane Sosa-Bruzon as partner in a private firm, who previously spent six years in the Broward Public Defender’s Office.
I am voting for Olanike “Nike” Adebayo (line 142).
Here’s an easy rule: If there are two candidates in the race and one of them is Elena Ortega-Tauler then vote for the other one — in this case Michael Barket.
Elena Tauler had a troubled history of being sued repeatedly for debt between 1982 and 2007; worse yet, the Florida Supreme Court, after a contested hearing, suspended her for three years, see 775 So.2d 944 (Fl. 2000), citing misappropriation of client funds albeit with some mitigating circumstances. Yet here she is, running again for a judgeship. DON’T LET IT HAPPEN.
Barket has 20 years experience in family law, probate, and landlord/tenant. But more importantly: He’s not Elena Ortega-Tauler.
Vote Michael Barket (line 144)!
Milena Abreu vs Miguel “Mike” Mirabal (no disclosure form). Abreau has 20 years experience including eight years as a traffic hearing officer since graduating from Loyola Law (New Orleans). She’s been involved in numerous local bar groups, and describes her pro bono history as “hav[ing] dedicated my professional career to the representation of indigent criminal defendants.”
I don’t know much about Mike Mirabal. The Herald says “Mirabal has been an attorney in Miami-Dade and in Spain for 14 years, specializing in international, family and immigration law,” then endorsed Abreu. I endorsed her when she ran in 2016, and am happy to do it again.
Vote Milena Abreu (line 146).