Fleur J. Lobree ()
By all accounts Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Fleur Jeannine Lobree is a good judge.
She was rated 93 percent qualified or highly qualified in both polls by the Cuban American Bar Association and the Dade Bar Association.
But she now holds the distinction of being appointed twice by Gov. Rick Scott and defeated twice by Hispanic opponents. Her loss to Hialeah attorney Mavel Ruiz again resurrects the question of whether it’s just a name game when it comes to Miami-Dade judicial elections.
Ruiz captured 54 percent of the vote to become one of six new judges to be elected in Miami-Dade.
The Justice Building Blog, which posts on the South Florida legal community, put it this way on Twitter on election night: “Requiem for Judge Fleur Lobree. Her name just doesn’t run well in Miami outside of the Haitian community and a few Canadian expats.”
Bob Levy, who was Lobree’s political consultant, said citizens of Miami-Dade have a history of rejecting judicial candidates “with names they can’t distinguish.”
“It would be my hope Fleur will be nominated and appointed to an appellate position where at the most she has to stand for retention and the name would not be an issue,” said Levy, president of Robert M. Levy & Associates in Miami and Tallahassee.
“It’s sad that our community has not matured to a position where names and ethnicity are not how they judge a judge. There were few judges on the ballot or even on the bench who equal Fleur’s competency and knowledge and skill set. But it’s obvious those are not the issues that interest the electorate.”
Not everybody was buying into the name game, namely Ruiz. She said she won because of tireless campaigning.
“I’ve been working for almost 12 months on a daily basis on seven days a week,” Ruiz said. “My signs were up 60, 70 days before the election and they are the ugliest signs of all the campaigns because I couldn’t afford anything.”
Ruiz points to Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Rodney Smith defeating Cuban-American candidate and personal injury attorney Christian Carrazana. She said Smith didn’t celebrate his wedding anniversary so he could campaign with her one evening.
“I don’t think the name game plays a major factor in this, and Rodney Smith proves it,” Ruiz said. “When you choose a race, you have to choose because something moves you, something speaks to you, not because of other frivolous reasons.”
Smith said voters understood what type of judge he is and returned him to the bench with 63 percent of the vote. “It is truly a blessing to keep a judge who is humbled, compassionate, fair and experienced,” he said.
Attorney Hector Lombana, partner at Gamba Lombana & Herrera, has been volunteering for judicial candidates for decades. He also dismisses that Miami-Dade voters only look at last names, and also points to Smith’s re-election as just the most recent where non-Hispanic candidates have bested Hispanic ones.
“Lobree lost because she failed to do what was necessary and followed the advice of all the wrong campaign consultants,” he said. “There are campaign consultants that operate on myths and anecdotal evidence, and there are campaign consultants that actually work and analyze voting patterns.”
Levy defended his work saying he led several candidates to victory Tuesday night, including Smith. Levy said the election had a huge absentee vote and that Hispanics vote disproportionately in higher numbers in absentees.
“I haven’t seen the final breakdown but this was somewhere about 55 to 58 percent Hispanic turnout overall of the dismal 13 percent total who voted in the county.”
Besides Ruiz, the new Miami-Dade judges who won election on Tuesday night are: Miami criminal defense attorney Alberto Milian, Miami Beach corporate attorney Martin Zilber, former assistant state prosecutor Stephen Thomas Millan and Assistant Miami City Attorney Veronica Diaz.
Miami-Dade County Court Judge Nuria Saenz got defeated by contract attorney Victoria Ferrer, while Miami-Dade County Court Judge Jacqueline Schwartz is headed for a runoff against Frank Bocanegra, a former police officer turned assistant public defender.
Big Money Loses
Other trends from the South Florida judicial elections Tuesday night was that big money hardly ruled the day and that bad press didn’t seem to hurt at all.
Broward Circuit Judge Lynn Rosenthal won despite a May DUI arrest with 56 percent of the vote, defeating criminal defense attorney Frantz “Jahra” McLawrence.
She claimed an accidental overdose of the sleep medication Ambien that caused her to hit a parked police car, an interstate concrete barrier and a parking lot gate.
Assistant Miami City Attorney Veronica Diaz also wasn’t any worse for wear despite coverage of two ethics investigations into whether she steered business to her boyfriend’s law firm and accepted free tickets to the Ultra Music Festival.
She defeated Renier Diaz de la Portilla, a former lawmaker and two-time school board member. Diaz de la Portilla’s name recognition didn’t help him in a election that was very much blood sport.
A person tied to the Diaz campaign filed a Bar complaint against him last week claiming he broke rules for judicial candidates by vocalizing his opposition to gay marriage at polling station. Diaz de la Portilla denied the allegation as an October surprise tactic.
“It shows that sometimes the people win and all the negative campaigning did not resonate,” Diaz said.
Saenz lost in her first bid for re-election since being named to the county bench in 2005. Ferrer told voters Saenz failed to move her calendar expeditiously and was also beholden to United Automobile Insurance Co., which had funded a mailer on Saenz’s behalf.
“I’m humbled and somewhat surprised,” Ferrer said. “I guess it really is the person that counts. The dollar doesn’t vote.”
Lombana, who supported Ferrer, said United Automobile wasted the $350,000 it spent to support candidates of its choosing through a political action committee. “You got to go out and campaign. You can’t buy an election,” he said
The tightest Broward judicial race, and one of the most negative, was between incumbent Circuit Judge Steven B. Feren and criminal defense attorney John Patrick Contini.
To many observers, Contini was clearly the underdog. Still, he beat Feren by 3 percent.
Contini’s campaign coordinator, Lee Cohn, recalled a bit of intimidation by Feren at a candidate forum this summer. “Feren leaned over and said to John, ‘You need to get out of this race. You don’t have enough money,’ ” Cohn said.
At public events where the two spoke, Feren brought up Contini’s Christian views and called him a religious bigot, Cohn said.
In the end, Contini got help from an unexpected source, former supporters of Feren.
“We had a quilt of support from so many people across the board—lots of Democrats, well-known Republicans, minorities,” Cohn said.
Jonathan Kasen, the loser in a three-way race for Broward county judge, ran against incumbent Ian Richards and government law attorney Claudia Robinson.
Kasen said he was dumbfounded to realize a well-funded and run campaign did not guarantee success. He finished third, while Richards and Robinson head to a runoff in November.
“We raised significant dollars, had backing of almost every significant (law) firm in town. It didn’t seem to matter,” Kasen said. “It was very humbling to get your clocked cleaned.
Two Broward races are headed for run-offs. Family law attorney Rhoda Sokoloff led in a four-way race for circuit judge. She will face plaintiff foreclosure attorney Dennis Bailey. That race eliminated family law attorney Andrea Ruth Gundersen and personal injury lawyer Russell Thompson.
The Broward circuit court race for an open seat was between Julie Shapiro Harris, a staff attorney with the clerk of courts who lost to Greenspoon Marder associate Stacey Schulman.
Broward County Judge Ellen Feld had the easiest night of any candidate, beating Mark W. Rickard by a 68 percent landslide.
In Palm Beach, Circuit Judge Diana Lewis was beaten by the well-funded and prominent defense foreclosure and family law attorney Jessica Ticktin.
Jaimie Goodman, an employment law attorney, beat family law attorney Peggy Rowe-Linn and foreclosure attorney Maxine Cheesman.