Miami-Dade voters to decide on a dozen contested judicial races



Miami-Dade Circuit Judge David Miller last saw Mauricio Padilla as an attorney appearing in Miller’s courtroom — where Padilla ended up on the wrong side of an unfavorable ruling from the judge.

Now Padilla, a Coconut Grove lawyer, is challenging Miller for a seat on the circuit court bench. The contest will be decided in the Aug. 14 election, one of a dozen contested judicial races on the ballot.

Miller, who is seeking his third six-year term on the bench, said he has not seen Padilla at any candidate forums. But he does recall seeing Padilla in court, when Miller agreed to fill in for a colleague and take on a civil trial involving one of Padilla’s clients.

Miller said he suspects Padilla ran against him because Padilla wasn’t pleased with a ruling in the case that made it more difficult for Padilla to collect his legal fees. Miller had to recuse himself from the case after Padilla filed papers to run against the judge.

Padilla, a 10-year attorney who focuses on family law and civil litigation, declined to comment when contacted by The Miami Herald.

“What makes it extremely ironic is that I had volunteered to take the case,” Miller said. “There are lots of ways I could have avoided opposition.”

Most judges do avoid opposition. Miller is the only sitting judge on the circuit court who is facing an opponent. Three other circuit seats are open and up for grabs.

At least one familiar name will be on the ballot for one of those open seats: Victor De Yurre, an attorney who served as a Miami city commissioner from 1987 to 1995. More recently, De Yurre has worked as a traffic court magistrate. His opponent for the seat is Teresa Mary Pooler, a former Miami-Dade prosecutor who also worked for many years as a hearing officer in traffic court.

In the other circuit court races, longtime Miami-Dade public defender Robert Coppel will square off against attorney Maria Elena Verde, and traffic magistrate Alex Jimenez Labora will take on Maria de Jesus Santovenia, an assistant city attorney in North Miami Beach.

Circuit judges oversee felony criminal cases and civil litigation involving major financial disputes, among other matters.

Voters will also have to decide in eight judicial races in Miami-Dade County Court, where judges oversee misdemeanor cases and small civil claims.

The most intriguing race will likely be challenger Diana Gonzalez versus incumbent Ana Maria Pando, who has received a spate of negative headlines in recent months.

Pando is the subject of a complaint by the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission over her using judicial letterhead to write a letter on behalf of a health and wellness center that appeared regularly in front of her in auto-insurance disputes. The complaint is still pending.

In other contested county court seats: Judge Patricia Marino-Pedraza will take on assistant state attorney Frank Hernandez; Judge Fleur Jeannine Lobree faces Michelle Alvarez Barakat; Tanya Brinkley, a traffic hearing officer, faces attorney Enrique Yabor; Judge Teretha Thomas faces John Rodriguez; assistant public defender Ivonne Cuesta runs against prosecutor Jacci Suzan Seskin; and Lourdes Cambó takes on Judge Don S. Cohn.

Another three-way race includes Arthur Spiegel, Greer Elaine Wallace and incumbent Judge Andrea Ricker Wolfson.

Read more Political Currents stories from the Miami Herald

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