It’s an unusual election season for the Miami-Dade judiciary — not as busy as usual.
Nineteen sitting judges are running unopposed. More surprising, three newbie candidates, untested and unscrutinized — and with enough campaign funds to scare off competitors — won seats on the bench unopposed. That’s a model we can’t support. Judges have overarching authority to mete out punishment, practice leniency and otherwise represent the best — and sometimes the worst — of the justice system. We have to question whether any candidate who can’t stand up to public scrutiny should even put on those black robes.
This year, as they have for decades, judicial candidates sat down with the Editorial Board and talked about why they wanted to serve, their knowledge of the law and their ability to dispense justice fairly. We commend them for respecting the process — and the public they seek to serve.
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This race pits veteran Miami-Dade Circuit Judge David C. Miller against newcomer Elisabeth Espinosa, a partner at Florida’s largest insurance-defense firm, Cole, Scott & Kissane. From the start, there was controversy.
Espinosa’s entry into the race prompted her law firm to request that Miller recuse himself from a slew of cases the firm had in front of him. The firm cited conflict of interest. The issue reached the Third District Court of Appeal, which denied the request. Miller stayed put on about two dozen cases.
Miller implied to the Editorial Board that Espinosa entered the race just to set the stage for the legal maneuver by her law firm. Espinosa denied the accusation, as did her law firm.
Regardless, Miller is the only sitting judge being challenged. Miller has a reputation of marching to the beat of his own drummer, that he is firm, but fair in the courtroom. In 2008, Miller was involved in a scuffle with another judge over a broken fax machine. It became so heated, a court employee pushed a panic button. No charges were filed, but Miller’s office was moved to another floor. Miller, who brought it up to the Editorial Board, said it was a “set-up.”
That one transgression has been superseded however, by subsequent years of him displaying expert preparation and knowledge of the law; plus his ire was not directed, as we have seen with judges unfit for the bench more recently, toward any member of the public. Miller says he arrives at the courthouse at 6 a.m. and runs a tight ship. However, he says he gives those who come before him ample time to speak. “I don’t cut people off on the five-minute motion calendar,” he told the Board.
Miller is by far the most experienced candidate in this race. Espinosa, who was raised in Miami and served as an assistant state attorney in Tampa for six years before joining Cole Scott in 2014, appears to be a competent lawyer, but needs to become more seasoned and cite something deeper than the “importance of democracy” as a reason for her to ascend to the bench.
In Group 8, the Herald recommends DAVID MILLER for Miami-Dade Circuit Court.
Three seasoned attorneys are vying for this seat, left vacant with Judge Cindy Lederman’s retirement.
Vivianne Del Rio is an experienced Miami-Dade assistant state attorney on leave to campaign. Louis V. Martinez is a former federal prosecutor who filled a leadership position with MDX; Renee Gordon is a longtime trial attorney who for decades worked at the Miami-Dade Public Defender’s Office.
Though Martinez and Del Rio are perfectly competent to wear the robe, Gordon displays the passion, compassion and knowledge of the law to best fill Lederman’s shoes.
Lederman is well-known and respected for her big heart and tough calls in cases related to children in peril. Gordon conveys the ability to use the law, yes, to punish appropriately, but not to destroy lives where they can be rehabilitated.
She is a 22-year member of the Florida Bar and is a trial attorney. During her years at the public defender’s office, she was a division chief and supervising attorney staff dealing with juveniles. She has made a career of helping those who can’t afford a private attorney — a large section of Miami-Dade residents.
Gordon grew up in Liberty City. However, it was during the summers of her youth spent on her grandparents’ working farm in rural Georgia that she learned the benefits of a strong work ethic and a charitable heart and developed the ambition to help others.
In Group 14, the Herald recommends RENEE GORDON for Miami-Dade Circuit Court.
Yery Marrero, a former Miami-Dade public defender now in private practice, and Joe Perkins, also in private practice are facing each other for the seat left vacant by Judge Dennis Murphy’s retirement.
Both candidates are well-versed in the law and are energetic and passionate about the prospect of serving their community from the bench.
Perkins said he would be an efficient judge and deal with the heavy load of cases now plaguing the profession: “I will always focus on administration and how to make my courtroom run better,” he said. Perkins is also involved in civic activities, volunteering with the National Black College Alliance and contributing manual labor to build a playground in an impoverished community.
Marrero said judges must be firm in the managing of their courtroom and attorneys appearing before them. “Judges need to say: ‘This is the deadline,’ ” she said. What makes a good judge? “Intelligence is not enough, you also need a strong work ethic.”
As a public defender for 10 years, Marrero won a reputation as a fighter for her clients; she has also tried more than 75 jury trials; served on the Florida Bar Grievance Committee and has already been a traffic court magistrate.
Because of her extensive experience in the courtroom, the Herald recommends YERY MARRERO for Circuit Court in Group 25.