In Miami, sole incumbent judge keeps seat, six first-timers elected to the bench

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge David Miller, left, faced off in Tuesday’s election against challenger Elisabeth Espinosa.
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge David Miller, left, faced off in Tuesday’s election against challenger Elisabeth Espinosa. Facebook

The only incumbent Miami-Dade judge facing opposition appeared poised to retain his seat Tuesday while voters ushered in six new judges for seats that opened up because of retirements. Another open race appeared likely to go to a run-off election in November because no candidate garnered more than 50 percent of the vote.

The only contested race had plenty of intrigue for Miami-Dade’s legal community.

Circuit Judge David Miller, who was first elected to the bench in 2000, had a solid five-percentage point lead over challenger Elisabeth Espinosa as of 9 p.m. with almost all of the votes counted.

Espinosa, a former Tampa prosecutor, works for Florida’s largest insurance-defense firm, Cole, Scott & Kissane. After she entered the race, the firm asked Miller to recuse himself from a slew of cases involving Cole, Scott & Kissane, saying it was a conflict of interest.

He refused. Miami’s appeal court refused to boot him from the cases.

In speaking to the Miami Herald Editorial Board, Miller implied Espinosa’s entry into the race was only done to get him off the firm’s cases. Espinosa, and her firm, said that wasn’t the case.

As for the rest of the judicial races, the campaigns were marked by the large number of retirements of sitting judges — seven departures led to seven open races.

In one circuit seat — the judges oversee felonies and major civil cases, among others — criminal defense lawyer Yerry Marrero beat Joe Perkins, a commercial litigation attorney.

In the other circuit seat, Renee Gordon, a longtime Miami-Dade Assistant Public Defender, and Miami-Dade prosecutor, Vivianne del Rio, were the top two vote-getters. But because neither topped 50 percent of the vote, they will square off during the Nov. 6 general election. They bested Louis Martinez, a private attorney who serves as a member of the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority.

Voters also elected six first-time judges for Miami-Dade County Court, where judges oversee misdemeanor criminal cases and minor civil disputes. They are:

Prosecutor Kristy Nuñez, the head of the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Human Trafficking Unit, appeared poised to defeat private attorney Rosy Aponte.

Lizzet Martinez, a private attorney, walloped criminal-defense and family lawyer Chris Pracitto.

Eleane Sosa-Bruzon, a former Broward assistant public defender turned insurance-claim lawyer, beat Olinke Adebayo, a defense lawyer with the taxpayer-funded Regional Counsel office.

Michael Barket, a private lawyer, prevailed over Elena Ortega-Tauler, a lawyer long beset by financial and legal troubles. She last lost a judicial race to Jorge Sarduy in 2016.

Milena Abreau, a defense lawyer who works in the death-penalty unit of the Regional Counsel unit, triumphed over Miek Mirabal, who runs a boutique international firm.