Today, the Miami Herald Editorial Board rolls out its candidate recommendations in advance of the Aug. 26 primaries. We consider this one of the Board’s most important public services. Each candidate that agrees to be interviewed — not all of them do — fills out a questionnaire that asks about a range of issues, then sits down with their opponents to be grilled by the members of the Board. It’s an illuminating process, out of which the Board makes it recommendations.
Sometimes the choice is easy, especially when a thoughtful, public-service-oriented candidate stands head and shoulders above the others. Sometimes, it’s a tough call — when two candidates are stellar, or, unfortunately, when neither is very impressive. In that case, the Board goes with the candidate who it thinks will cause the least harm.
This week, we start with candidates for circuit and county court in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Find videos of each candidate at miamiherald.com/opinion.
Miami-Dade Circuit Court
Two strong candidates with long local legal careers are vying for the Miami-Dade Circuit Court seat in Group 16, which is being vacated by the retirement of Judge Leon Firtel.
They are Thomas Aquinas Cobitz, 51, a 24-year attorney in private practice and Stephen Millan, 48, with 22 years of legal experience and his own law firm.
Mr. Cobitz is a virtual newcomer to politics, while Millan has run, unsuccessfully, for Miami-Dade circuit and county judge seats and went through the Judicial Nominating Commission.
Without an incumbent in the race, both candidates start at Sqaure One. There is no major public legal misstep either has committed; no questionable rulings from the bench to consider. Mr. Millan has a varied legal practice dealing in immigration, criminal defense and bankruptcy. Mr. Cobitz is mainly a criminal defense attorney.
The polished Mr. Cobitz, who also has 15 years of experience as a traffic hearing officer and as administrative magistrate, says he already has “judicial temperament” and will cut down excessive case loads. “The main challenge to our court system is the lack of adequate funding,” he said, but he’ll run a tight ship.
Mr. Millan has a more roll-up-your-sleeves, man-of-the-people approach from the bench that is refreshing. The bench needs that type of thinking.
Mr. Cobitz’s campaign appears to be more grassroots. He would not say how much he’s spending, except, “what is needed to be able to convey to voters my experience to serve on the bench.” His campaign has raised $20,000 and the rest “needed” will come from his pocket. Speaking of pockets, Mr. Millan appears to have deep ones. He’s prepared to spend up to $120,000 on the race and says he might tap up to $70,000 of his own money.
As the father of five sons ages 9 through 16, we suspect Mr. Millan knows a thing or two about mediation and listening to both sides. He offers to be a judge with a heart. If he sounds a little Boy Scout-ish, that’s because he’s a former Eagle Scout and current scoutmaster. Regardless, his campaign seems more energetic and purposeful than Mr. Cobitz’s. That’s a good sign — and a tipping point.
For Group 16, the Miami Herald recommends STEPHEN MILLAN.
Judge Rodney Smith, 39, is the incumbent in this race — and voters should keep it that way. He has brought a wealth of experience to his courtroom, all of which makes him eminently qualified for the job. He was appointed to Miami-Dade’s County Court in 2008 by then-Gov. Charlie Crist and later elected to the seat unopposed. At 33, he was one of the youngest judges in the state. In 2012, after choosing to put himself through the grueling Judicial Nominating Commission process — a voluntary act that speaks well of most candidates — Gov. Rick Scott elevated him to the circuit bench.
Before joining the bench, Judge Smith was senior assistant city attorney for Miami Beach, an assistant state attorney and worked in private practice.
Judge Smith is being challenged by attorney Christian Carrazana, a native of Newark, N.J. Though he says that he has 14 years’ experience in civil litigation, he brings a rather flimsy résumé to the race, as were his answers to the Herald’s questionnaire. Where Judge Smith lists a deep reserve of civic involvement — from 5000 Role Models of Excellence to bar associations and the Boy Scouts, Mr. Carrazana lists nothing. His other responses are almost as unrevealing.
Judge Smith, a native of Miami, credits strong family values and scouting — he’s an Eagle Scout — for the sense of fairness with which he gives everyone their day in court.
For Group 26, the Miami Herald recommends RODNEY ‘ROD’ SMITH.