In My Opinion

Fred Grimm: Rubio stomps on judge’s reputation

Marco Rubio killed the nomination of William Thomas to the federal judiciary last week. Then he tried to murder the judge’s reputation.

His office raised the specter of the Miami-Dade circuit judge’s “judicial temperament.” Well, you know what that means.

Rubio’s flack, Brooke Sammon, told the Daily Business Review Thursday that the senator has blocked confirmation hearings for Judge Thomas, who is openly gay, because the senator has “questions about his judicial temperament and his willingness to impose appropriate criminal sentences.”

Sammon cited two instances that Rubio decided “raised serious concerns about his fitness for a lifetime federal appointment.” One was the sentencing hearing in January for a convicted murderer. As the DBR noted, Thomas wept as he sentenced Joel Lebron.

It was a death sentence. Judge Thomas added six life sentences. Tears came as he described the horrendous kidnapping, gang rape and murder of 18-year-old Ana Maria Angel in 2002. The judge told how the killer held a pistol to her head and pulled the trigger three times before the gun fired.

“With each pull of the trigger, Ana Maria must have labored under the constant fear that her death was imminent,” Judge Thomas said. And he wept. Miami Herald courts reporter David Ovalle was there as emotions engulfed the courtroom. Nothing about the judge’s demeanor struck Ovalle as inappropriate.

Rubio’s office also cited the case of Michele Traverso, who killed a bicyclist in a hit-and-run accident on the Rickenbacker Causeway that provoked considerable outrage among the cycling community.

But Assistant State Attorney Jane Anderson, who prosecuted the Traverso case in 2012, wrote Rubio that despite the widespread contention that this was a DUI case, the prosecution “had no proof that the defendant had driven under the influence or recklessly. Legally it was an accident.”

The judge, she noted, actually refused a defense motion for downward departure from the sentencing guidelines. He added a year’s sentence to the 11 months Traverso had already served in the county jail — a 23-month sentence, not, as Rubio’s office intimated, 364 days. Anderson wrote, “While the sentence was ultimately disappointing to the state and the victim’s family, Judge Thomas legally sentenced the defendant after hearing all parties and conducting the sentencing hearing with compassion and careful judgment.”

Rubio has a similar letter correcting popular misconceptions about the Traverso case from Nushin Sayfie, chief administrative judge for the criminal court.

Rubio received other letters praising Thomas from bleeding-heart organizations like the Miami-Dade and Broward Police Benevolent Associations, not to mention the League of Prosecutors. Ovalle, who knows everything about that courthouse, insisted that Thomas is regarded as one of the hardest-working, most competent judges in the Miami-Dade criminal court division.

But all this is to pretend that Rubio had some reason other than crass Tea Party politics for sabotaging Judge Thomas’ reputation and aborting the confirmation process.

So the Thomas nomination won’t get a hearing, much less a vote.

Because, you know, he just lacks the right “judicial temperament.”

Read more Fred Grimm stories from the Miami Herald

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