Judge Morton Perry knew that the cycle of violence in the family home would continue so long as courts took a Band-Aid approach to dealing with offenders.
So, during Perry’s more than 20-year tenure on the bench of the Miami-Dade County Court Criminal Bench, he, along with up-and-coming young judges established the Miami-Dade Domestic Violence Court program. For some offenders, the program meant an alternative: anger management and related programs in exchange for a dismissal of charges.
“Prior to that time, women routinely declined to testify against their abusers and the cycle of violence in their households continued unchecked,” said his daughter, attorney Pamela Perry. “This program has become a national model and has probably prevented the continued abuse of thousands of women in our community.”
Perry died at age 90 on Jan. 5. His colleagues speak of a man who was fair, compassionate and who championed justice.
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Miami Circuit Judge Cindy Lederman was one of those young judges who worked with Perry on establishing the domestic violence program.
“He was actually a judicial mentor to me,” Lederman said Friday. “We worked together early in my career realizing that the way the court handled domestic violence cases needed to be changed. He was ahead of his time in supporting domestic violence reform in the early 1990s…when it was unheard of. He was a very good man.”
Perry was elected to the bench in 1968 and served as an administrative judge of the crimes division of the Miami-Dade County Court. There, he was reportedly the first judge in Florida to rule that a married man could be prosecuted for sexually assaulting his wife.
“I started in 1980 as a prosecutor in the State’s Attorney’s Office and he was one of the judges I appeared before. I was young, naive, probably overzealous and he was a very wise, calming influence,” recalls Judge Robert Scola, who is now a U.S. District Court judge.
Scola also tried his first death penalty case before Judge Perry. A contentious trial, he recalls, and one in which the jury recommended the death penalty in a 10-2 vote. Perry, however, decided the death penalty was not warranted despite the recommendation.
Scola respected Perry’s decision.
“He was very bright, a pleasure to be in front of with a great sense of justice and fairness,” Scola said. “I thought it was a death penalty or I wouldn’t have asked for it but he had a good justification for his decision.”
Along with his calm, intellectual demeanor there lurked a sense of humor. The Official Richard E. Gerstein Justice Building Blog celebrated Perry’s life recently by recounting an anecdote. Judge Perry was to handle a solicitation of prostitution case and he recognized the defendant. The courtroom exchange almost recalls one of those old Playboy Party Jokes.
Judge Perry: “Sir, weren't you in my courtroom last week on the same charge?”
Defendant: “Yes Judge, that was me.”
Judge Perry: “What do you have to say for yourself?”
Defendant: “I don't know judge, I guess I fall in love quickly.”
The courtroom exploded in laughter. Judge Perry, too.
Perry was born in Cleveland, Ohio on May 15, 1924. He served in the Army Air Corp during World War II and was graduated by the University of Miami Law School in 1950. In 1962, he joined the State Attorney’s Office and stayed six years.
During that time he, along with Ralph Nader, testified before the Fulbright senate committee on consumer fraud. Perry prosecuted national credit card companies that were defrauding consumer and charging usurious rates, his daughter recalls.
“He was compassionate, smart and devoted his life to doing justice and it doesn’t get any better than that,” Pamela Perry said. “Above all, my dad was honest to the core.”
And he took the profession seriously. When the veteran jurist faced a last-minute, younger challenger for the bench in 1988 he wrote on his questionnaire to The Miami News editorial board: “I have learned that the system can absorb almost any candidate and very few care or even know that the standards of the bench are eroding.”
He earned the paper’s endorsement. “His words should be heeded. Judges are measured by many standards, and by any of them Perry ranks high. He has earned re-election and The News Editorial Board strongly recommends that Judge Morton Perry be allowed to continue in the job he has done so well for so long.”
Perry handily won and stepped down from the bench in 1992.
Perry is survived by his children Pamela and Aaron Perry; grandchildren Allie, Annie and Adam; his sister Arline Lowenstein, and his partner Irene Cossin. He was predeceased by his first two wives. Services were private.
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