Christian Carrazana
Christian Carrazana ()

Miami personal injury attorney Christian Carrazana said he never thought he’d be fired for running against Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Rodney Smith.

But Carrazana was fired May 2 by Panter, Panter & Sampedro, a firm he had worked at for 10 years, after he filed papers to run against Smith in August. Carrazana’s firing was first reported in the Justice Building Blog, which follows South Florida courthouse gossip and news.

Carrazana had no comment on his dismissal, saying instead that his motion in Miami-Dade Circuit Court to modify his child support outlines what happened to him at the law firm when he announced plans to run against Smith.

The pleading said managing partner Brett Panter told him he would not be forced to resign, but he could not expect the firm’s support for his candidacy.

“Panter then did a 180-degree turn and informed the father that the firm will consider whether it will continue to employ the father,” the motion states.

Carrazana was told he was fired because his decision to run against Smith “was against the firm’s interest,” the motion stated.

Support pledged

Panter said his firm gave Smith its support last fall during a networking dinner where the judge was the guest of honor.

In an email obtained by the Daily Business Review to “referral network member” from Panter, he talked about how Smith gave an update on the new law banning texting while driving.

“Judge Smith is up for election now so please support him, he is truly a kind and compassionate judge, and we should keep him on the bench,” Panter wrote. “As always our sphere of influence continues to grow. We have be honored with numerous judges attending our dinners.”

The pleading goes on to say the firm’s managing partners, Brett Panter and David Sampedro, summoned Carrazana to an impromptu meeting April 29. They told the attorney to either withdraw from the race or file for an open seat, according to the motion.

In a lengthy footnote, Carrazana said the managing partners told him the firm had received a phone call from an angry former judge asking “why their guy is running against Judge Smith.”

“Both Mr. Sampedro and Mr. Panter stated that the perception within the legal community is that the father is running against Judge Smith solely because Judge Smith is African-American,” the footnote stated. “And that an African-American judge is perceived as being weak in popularity among the Cuban-Latino community in Miami-Dade County.”

Carrazana, a Cuban-American personal injury protection attorney, was given 24 hours to give the managing partners his decision.

Sampedro also told Carrazana that the Cuban American Bar Association wants a diverse bench with different ethnicities regardless of who is better qualified, according to the footnote.

Ethnic race

Bob Levy of Robert M. Levy and Associates with offices in Miami and Tallahassee is the lead consultant on Smith’s re-election and has run more than 100 judicial campaigns.

Levy said Carrazana clearly picked the race against Smith for ethnic reasons. “Every cycle we think our community and individual lawyers have matured past all that, but apparently not in his case,” he said.

Grudge races, no matter what the flavor, always lose, Levy added.

“Your grudge is not the voters’ grudge,” he said. “When someone approaches us to do a campaign with a grudge, we tell them they won’t and can’t win and take a hike.”

Smith, a former assistant city attorney in Miami Beach, was appointed to the circuit bench by Gov. Rick Scott in July 2012 after serving as a county court judge. Smith described himself as a “skinny kid from Liberty City” in a Daily Business Review profile of him in October.

“No one has to run for judge,” Levy said.

Carrazana is in the unenviable position of looking for work while running for judge Aug. 26. He is still looking to unseat Smith. He told the Daily Business Review upon qualifying: “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.”

Panter said Carrazana “is a very intelligent excellent PIP lawyer,” he said. “But we discussed this beforehand with him, and we told him our support was already promised, and our word is our bond.”