Miami-Dade Circuit Court’s complex business litigation section will get its third judge in only a year.
Circuit Judge John Thornton Jr. will become czar of complex litigation Jan. 31. Judge Jose Rodriguez, who moved to the business court last January when Judge Gill Freeman went to the family division, will take over Thornton’s general calendar.
The swap in duties is one of several changes Chief Circuit Judge Joel Brown is making as a prelude to the biannual rejuggling of assignments caused by retiring judges and newly elected ones.
“Judge Rodriguez and Judge Thornton are both fine judges, who I am certain will do a good job in their respective divisions,” Brown said. “As chief judge I assign judges to various divisions where they can best serve the overall needs of our circuit. That is what was done in this case.”
Because Thornton and Rodriguez are staying on the civil bench, no administrative order was posted announcing the change. They did not respond to calls for comment by deadline.
Rodriguez’s switch caught some lawyers off-guard.
“We’re surprised, and not just me. There’s a lot of people in the community,” said Hector Lombana of Gamba & Lombana in Coral Gables. “He was supposed to have a two-year term, and he doesn’t have that anymore.”
Freeman said she thought her successor would preside over complex business for five years just as she did. Thornton did not express interest in the section when she left, she said.
But Stephen Zack of Boies Schiller & Flexner in Miami, who sits on the circuit’s complex litigation committee, said he had not thought much about the judicial change. Brown and chief judges across the state “have got to be constantly evaluating how to allocate their resources,” Zack said.
In other circuit judge reassignments, Circuit Judge Victoria Sigler moved from criminal division to civil Nov. 12. Judges Beth Bloom and Antonio Arzola will move from criminal to civil Jan. 14, the same day Judge Stanford Blake goes from family to civil and Judge Marcia Caballero goes from civil to family. Judge Norma Lindsey is reassigned from juvenile to civil, and Judge Lisa Walsh from criminal to civil effective Feb. 4. Judge Leon Firtel moves from criminal to family March 4.
In county court, Judge Deborah White-Labora is reassigned from drug court to the domestic violence division, Judge Lourdes Simon goes from civil in the South Dade Justice Center to civil in the Dade County Courthouse, and Judge Lawrence King from criminal to civil in South Dade, all effective Jan. 14.
Thornton was appointed to the circuit bench by Governor Charlie Crist in 2007. Before that he was in private practice for 27 years following a three-year stint at the state attorney’s office. His clients at Thornton & Rothman included the University of Miami and the Archdiocese of Miami.
Thornton, a past president of the Dade County Bar Association, was rated qualified or exceptionally qualified by 96.5 percent of respondents in a bar poll in 2010. He faced no election opponent that year.
Governor Lawton Chiles appointed Rodriguez to county court in 1994, and Governor Jeb Bush elevated him to the circuit bench in 2000. He was in private practice for 14 years before he became a judge.
Rodriguez had a 77 percent rating in the county bar association’s 2008 poll when he was re-elected without opposition. He is the featured speaker Dec. 4 at an association seminar on complex business litigation.