The retirement of two well-known Broward Circuit judges has opened up a six-way race heading into the Aug. 26 judicial elections.
In Miami-Dade, Circuit Judges Rodney Smith and Jeannine Fleur Lobree caught challengers, as did County Court Judges Jacqueline Schwartz and Nuria Saenz. Meanwhile, four open seats are up for grabs due to judges retiring.
Related: South Florida Judicial Candidates
In Palm Beach County, two circuit court seats have drawn competition.
Deadline for qualifying for judicial elections was Friday at noon, but state election officials said a final list of qualifiers wouldn’t be available until after deadline.
Most of the incumbent judges in all three counties drew no competition and will remain on the bench unchallenged.
In Broward, after 24 years on the bench, Circuit Judge Jeffrey Streitfeld will leave complex civil litigation to others at year’s end. Probate Administrative Judge Mel Grossman, having worn the robe 36 years, is also departing.
Vying for their seats are six attorneys. In place of Grossman in Group 16, the announced candidates include Dennis Bailey of Choice Legal in Fort Lauderdale and the brother of Broward Circuit Judge Tim Bailey. Bailey faces off against solo practitioners Andrea Ruth Gundersen of Davie and Russell Miller Thompson of Sunrise.
His third opponent is family law attorney Rhoda Sokoloff of Fort Lauderdale. Sokoloff has experience campaigning; she ran in 2010 and again in 2012 when she lost to now-Circuit Judge Laura Watson. Watson faces the prospect of removal for ethics violations based on the recommendation of a Judicial Qualifications Commission panel.
In Group 17, those who would be Streitfeld’s successors are Julie Shapiro-Harris, a staff attorney in the Broward Clerk of Courts, and Stacey Schulman, a labor and employment trial attorney at Greenspoon Marder in Fort Lauderdale and former assistant state attorney.
A third circuit court race is shaping up in Group 8, where criminal defense attorney F. Jahra McLawrence is challenging incumbent Circuit Judge Lynn Rosenthal. A wartime Navy veteran, McLawrence unsuccessfully ran for a county court seat in 2010.
Another contested race began with a last-minute filing. John Contini, a DUI lawyer, filed just before deadline in Group 27. He is pitting himself against incumbent Circuit Judge Steven B. Feren, a former Sunrise mayor who has been on the bench since 2008.
Voters will also decide on four Broward county court seats, but only two are contested.
In Group 18, incumbent County Court Judge Ellen Feld is being challenged by Mark William Rickard, a civil litigator in Plantation.
In Group 27, incumbent Ian Richards has two challengers—Jonathan Kasen and Claudia Robinson. Race may be a factor in the election. Richards is Caribbean black and Robinson is of Nicaraguan origin.
She is a former assistant public defender and then from 2008-2012 was the in-house counsel to the Police Benevolent Association. She has since gone into private practice.
Kasen was an assistant public defender now in private practice.
Two circuit judges in Miami-Dade drew challengers.
Circuit Judge Rodney Smith will face Christian Carrazana, a trial and appellate lawyer with the Miami personal injury firm of Panter, Panter & Sampedro, will try to unseat Smith. Carrazana’s practice primarily focuses on representing health care providers and insureds who have had claims denied. He said he chose to run against Smith based on his experience in the judge’s courtroom.
“Having spoken with many attorneys who have similarly appeared before Judge Smith at the county and circuit court level, I believe that I am the more qualified candidate,” Carrazana said. “I will be fair, impartial and respectful of lawyers and the public in all proceedings.”
Smith, a former assistant city attorney for the city of Miami Beach, was appointed to the Circuit Court by Gov. Rick Scott in July 2012 after serving as a county court judge.
Smith described himself as “skinny kid from Liberty City” in a Daily Business Review profile of him in October.
Lobree, in the meantime, will face criminal defense attorney Mavel Ruiz, who switched out of three other races since declaring her candidacy last fall before deciding Friday on Lobree.
Lobree has the honor of being selected to the bench twice by Gov. Rick Scott. She lost in 2012 by a margin of 71 to 29 percent to Michele Alvarez Barakat.
Even before she lost, Lobree had already applied for another open seat and Scott selected her again in March 2013.
There are three other contested seats on the circuit level in Miami-Dade thanks to the retirement of Circuit Judges Marc Schumacher, Sandy Karlan, Ronald C. Dresnick and Leon Firtel.
For Schumacher’s seat, criminal defense attorney Oscar Rodriguez-Fonts will square off against corporate attorney turned mediator Martin Zilber in Group 58.
Former Miami-Dade School Board member Renier Diaz de la Portilla will vie for the bench against Veronica Diaz, assistant attorney for the city of Miami, in Group 70. Diaz had registered to run against Miami-Dade County Judge William Altfield but withdrew. She handles complex commercial transactions for the city.
In Group 27, Dresnick’s seat, there will be a three-way race. Family practice attorney Mary Gomez will take on long-time criminal defense lawyer Albert Milan and Joseph David Perkins, a partner at Garbet, Stiphany, Allen & Roza specializing in complex commercial litigation.
In Group 16, Thomas Aquinas Cobitz and Stephen Thomas Millan are in a race to replace Firtel.
Cobitz is a civil rights and criminal defense attorney based in Hialeah. A solo practitioner, he has been a member of the Florida Bar since 1989. He earned his law degree at the University of Miami.
Millan is a solo practitioner in Miami specializing in bankruptcy, civil litigation, criminal defense, immigration, personal injury and real estate. He’s been a Florida Bar member since 1991 and got his law degree at Northeastern University Schol of Law.
In Miami-Dade County Court, Judge Jacqueline Schwartz will have her incumbency tested in Group 19 by former Miami Lakes town manager Frank C. Bocanegra and criminal defense attorney Rachel Glorioso Dooley.
Nuria, the incumbent in Group 36, is being challenged by personal injury attorney Victoria Ferrer.
Palm Beach County
There are no contested county court races in Palm Beach. However, two circuit court seats have drawn competition and one sitting judge went switching seats in an attempt to avoid challengers.
Circuit Judge Diana Lewis won the Group 14 seat in 2008. But this year Jessica Ticktin, a prominent foreclosure defense attorney, filed to run against her.
Lewis has repeatedly received low marks from the Palm Beach County Bar Association. She is often criticized by attorneys on both sides of issues in her court for a hot temper and poor courtroom demeanor.
In late April, Lewis opted to switch and run in Group 32, the seat being vacated by retiring Circuit Judge Sandra McSorley.
At the time, Lewis would have run unopposed. But on Thursday, C. Annelius Mouring, a Greenacres attorney filed to challenge Lewis. Lewis moved back to her original Group 14 race. Then Mouring dropped out and Samantha Schosberg Feuer, who was also in Group 14, moved to Group 32.
Samantha Schosberg Feuer, an Akerman attorney in West Palm Beach, and was a former prosecutor in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach. She worked for the Florida Attorney General’s Office and has a past Palm Beach chapter president of the Florida Association for Women’s Lawyers.
Feuer’s campaign drew prominent supporters and both challengers are considered well-funded. To date, Feuer has reported almost $100,000 for her campaign.
However, as of late Friday, she was unopposed.
In Group 30, three newcomers are running to replace Circuit Judge Lucy Chernow Brown, who is retiring.
Maxine D. Cheesman of West Palm Beach is a former division director of the South Florida Water Management District. She has run her own civil law practice since 2005. She earned her juris doctor at Nova Southeastern University.
Jaimie Goodman, a former in-house counsel for General Motors Corp., has run twice before and is hoping the third time is the charm. In addition to Cheesman, he would have to defeat Peggy Rowe-Linn, a family law solo practitioner in West Palm Beach.