Miami-Dade County

Miami-Dade judge found dead in South Beach apartment after heart failure

From, left, Judges Andrew Hague and Shelley Kravitz alongside the since-retired supervisor of elections, Penelope Townsley, review ballots during the 2014 general election in Miami-Dade County.
From, left, Judges Andrew Hague and Shelley Kravitz alongside the since-retired supervisor of elections, Penelope Townsley, review ballots during the 2014 general election in Miami-Dade County. El Nuevo Herald

Chances are, if you flubbed the signature on your absentee ballot in a Miami-Dade election or voted provisionally any time this millennium, County Court Judge Shelley J. Kravitz helped decide whether your vote counted.

Armed with a magnifying glass and sometimes accompanied by her dog, Lenny, Kravitz spent countless hours over the last 20 years or so at county elections headquarters combing through thousands of questionable ballots and overseeing recounts. As the longtime chairwoman of Miami-Dade’s little-known canvassing board, she helped place the seal of approval on scores of elections.

She did incredible things in her career.

Judge Carroll Kelly

But the next time Miami voters head to the polls, someone else will have to pick up the magnifying glass. After a long career as an attorney and judge, Kravitz was found dead of heart disease Tuesday afternoon in her South Beach apartment. She was 64.

“It’s really sad. It’s difficult to accept,” said ex-husband and former Miami city manager Jose Garcia-Pedrosa.

Kravitz’s sudden death, discovered by a dog-walker who came up to her apartment in ICON South Beach to let out Lenny, shocked her friends. Miami-Dade’s longest-tenured County Court judge was running yet again for reelection. Next week, she was scheduled to be honored by the Dade County Bar Association.

“She did incredible things in her career,” said Judge Carroll Kelly, a close friend and colleague.

Kravitz, who grew up in Hialeah and worked in the ’70s as an elementary school teacher, earned her law degree from the University of Miami in 1982. She and her father, Harold Kravitz, practiced together before she became a county judge in 1993.

Kravitz, whose love for the downtrodden, animals and consignment shop couture was legendary, was a leader in the local legal profession. She served for a time as president of the Dade County chapter of the Florida Association for Women Lawyers and also acted as a mentor who helped indoctrinate new judges into the profession. She also had an intimate view of one of Miami’s more turbulent political chapters as Garcia-Pedrosa’s wife during a time when he was fired and reappointed three times in rapid succession as Miami’s city manager.

But perhaps her most consequential role in Miami history came through her position as chairwoman of Miami-Dade’s county canvassing board, a three-person panel tasked with reviewing questionable ballots and presiding in a judicial capacity over election recounts. It’s unclear how long Kravitz served as chairwoman of the canvassing board. But Judge Kelly remembered her working during the Bush-Gore presidential recount in 2000.

“She ate, drank, slept and didn’t move from there for a long time,” Kelly said.

Miami-Dade elections supervisor Christina White and county election law attorney Oren Rosenthal had similar memories.

“I remember in the presidential election of 2012 when we had to canvass 14 hours straight,” said Rosenthal. “She was always willing to be there, always attentive and working really hard to make sure every legal vote counted.”

The last recount Kravitz presided over came in November, when two candidates needed a recount to determine who would make the runoff for a Miami commission seat election. The eventual winner of the runoff election: Joe Carollo, the former Miami mayor who thrice fired her husband.

“Elections in this area have been rather interesting and colorful. And yet, the canvassing board has always been above the fray,” said Garcia-Pedrosa.

Kravitz is survived by her brother, Richard, and her father. It’s unknown if service details have been set.