Robert Lance Andrews, whose biting wit and flair for high-profile and controversial cases made him a fixture in Broward County’s court system for three decades, died Friday. He was 74.
After a 30-year career on the bench, Andrews suffered a stroke in 2008 and retired, a year after his wife, Carole, a member of the Broward school board, died of cancer. He remarried and moved to Texas, and was living with a son in Georgia at the time of his death.
Andrews’ colorful and outside-the-box approach first drew national attention in 1982 when he offered a long-time Fort Lauderdale prostitute a stark choice: five years in prison or a one-way ticket to California.
The woman went to Santa Monica, where she was quickly arrested for prostitution, and the police chief there sent an alleged sex offender to South Florida as payback. “We owed a few to Florida,” the chief said.
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During South Florida’s epidemic of cocaine use in the ’80s, Andrews struck down Broward Sheriff Nick Navarro’s policy of random searches of bus passengers for drugs.
“This is not Hitler’s Berlin, nor Stalin’s Moscow,” Andrews wrote in an opinion cited approvingly by the Florida Supreme Court, which upheld his decision.
Andrews once ruled that a Plantation couple could keep their two overweight dogs, even though their condo association had a weight limit on pets, because the couple had been denied a right to a hearing. In a historic preservation case that dragged on for years, he ruled that a developer could build a 42-story condo tower next to downtown Fort Lauderdale’s iconic Stranahan House, the home of the city’s pioneer settlers.
A native of Hollywood, Andrews was born Feb. 4, 1941, graduated from South Broward High in 1959 and lived in the city for most of his life.
After receiving his undergraduate degree at Florida Atlantic University, Andrews went to law school at the University of Georgia. For years, his chambers in the Fort Lauderdale courthouse were decorated with Bulldog mascots and memorabilia.
A former assistant U.S. attorney in Miami and a Secret Service agent, he was assigned to protect Dr. Benjamin Spock, the best-selling author, baby doctor and Vietnam War protester, in his bid for the presidency in 1972.
Andrews was appointed county judge by Gov. Reubin Askew in 1978 and was appointed to the circuit bench by Gov. Bob Graham in 1982.
He had a booming voice and infectious laugh, sported a handlebar mustache for a time, and relished the legal combat of the courtroom, preferably with TV cameras present.
Andrews ruled against the city of Hollywood and Broward County so often in the 1980s that city and county commissioners tried and failed to disqualify him from hearing their cases.
In one of the most sensational medical malpractice verdicts in the U.S. at the time, Andrews awarded $12.5 million in damages in 1982 to Susan Ann Von Stetina, who was permanently brain-damaged after hospital workers failed to notice that her respirator was not working for 28 minutes.
Andrews awarded Von Stetina’s lawyers another $4.4 million. The case was often cited by the medical profession in its years-long effort to win caps on damages in malpractice cases.
Defending his decision in a 1982 Herald profile, Andrews told Herald staff writer Fred Strasser: “For years, they’ll be blaming Andrews as the guy who drove up everybody’s doctor bill. So what? That’s the game. If you can’t stand the heat, get the hell out of the kitchen.”
Andrews’ long-time judicial assistant, Pixie Easthope, posted on her Facebook account Saturday that Andrews was not only her boss, but also a friend for 38 years, “and I will dearly miss him.”
Andrews is survived by two sons. Funeral arrangements were pending on Saturday.