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OUR OPINION: For Miami-Dade County Circuit Court

HeraldEd@MiamiHerald.com

Miami-Dade Circuit Court

GROUP 27

Both candidates in this race to fill an open seat are attorneys who bring diverse and attractive legal experience to the contest. Mary Gomez, 43, has 19 years of courtroom experience. having handled probate and guardian cases among other areas. For the past decade, she has concentrated on marital and family law. She says, “I believe in the power of settlement.”

Challenger Alberto Milian likely has greater name recognition, brutally thrust into exile politics at a young age when his father Emilio Milian, a moderate voice in the Cuba debate, was the severely injured in a car bomb in in 1976. He survived, but lost his legs.

Son Alberto has in the past been involved in a workplace confrontation in 1999 when he worked at the Broward State Attorney’s Office. He received a reprimand. That was a long time ago, and Mr. Milian says that he has matured and has the temperament to be a judge. Some in the legal community still question his contention. Mr. Milian, 53, is a veteran of Operation Just Cause in Panama and Operation Desert Storm. He challenged Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle — unsuccessfully — in 2000 and 2004. He is in private practice, focusing on criminal law and law-enforcement labor relations.

As for community service, Mr. Milian says that he donates up to 200 hours a year on behalf of pro bono clients. Ms. Gomez has been a volunteer with Camillus House, Miami Rescue Mission and Feeding South Florida, among other organizations. She is also a code enforcement special master for the town of Miami Lakes, hearing cases dealing with the city's code.

Given the breadth of her experience and the even temperament that she has needed to work in the emotionally volatile arena of marital and family law — which can only help on the bench — the Miami Herald recommends MARY GOMEZ in Group 27.

GROUP 58

Judge Marc Schumacher’s retirement has created another open seat in Circuit Court.

Two local attorneys are running in Group 58: Oscar Rodriguez-Fonts, 51, a former assistant city of Miami attorney and Miami-Dade public defender, and Martin Zilber, 52, a 25-year lawyer now with the Reyes Law Firm.

As an assistant city attorney, Rodriguez-Fonts has experience in all types of litigation. He represented the city in federal, circuit and county court civil litigation matters. As a defense attorney with his own firm, he represented clients in circuit, county and juvenile court. Before politics, he was an aide to former U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart.

But Mr. Zilber appears to have a slight edge because of his experience as a traffic court hearing magistrate — a modest primer for the bench. He’s presided over hundreds of traffic trials and pre-trial hearings, he said. He’s also a certified mediator.

Unlike his opponent Rodriguez-Fonts, Mr. Zilber underwent the rigorous Judicial Nominating Commission process in the hope of being named to an open judicial seat by the governor. He ran unsuccessfully for a similar seat in 2000.

If his name sounds familiar, that’s because Mr. Zilber is the son of Sigmund “Ziggy” Zilber, a taxi tycoon who was known for owning many of the city and county permits back in the 1970s. With the current Uber and Lyft controversy, Mr. Zilber said his father’s name now often comes up in conversation.

Because of the experience he has garnered as a traffic court hearing magistrate, the Miami Herald recommends MARTIN ZILBER.

GROUP 67:

Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Fleur Jeannine Lobree, 46, is being challenged by attorney Mavel Ruiz, 53, a criminal defense attorney and former assistant public defender.

In her current role with the Office of Regional Conflict Counsel, Ms. Ruiz represents indigent defendants charged with felonies in Miami-Dade County. She says she spends most working days in court and, in the course of her career, has appeared before more than 100 judges, representing “everyone from police officers to drug-addicted wealthy tycoons.”

In this race, though, our nod goes to Ms. Lobree, who currently sits in the criminal division and has had her legal experience ticket punched at all the right places over the years.

A graduate of UM Law School, she has been an assistant state attorney general, a senior judicial law clerk for the Third District Court of Appeal and a prosecutor in Miami-Dade County for nine years who tried capital murder cases, among other things. Her private law practice covered a wide range of civil litigation, from commercial law to insurance coverage and more. She was appointed to the circuit court in February 2013, after serving nearly two years as a judge in county court.

A cancer survivor, she serves as an officer and director of a group that focuses on breast cancer care and prevention.

As in virtually every other race, the one thing all judicial candidates agree on is the challenge presented by a lack of funding and resources. Ms. Ruiz cited this as the principal problem. Judge Lobree said the overwhelming caseloads affect the public’s right of access to the judicial system.

For Group 67, the Miami Herald recommends FLEUR JEANNINE LOBREE.

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