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FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. � In May, Dale Ross, chief judge for the Florida circuit court in Broward County for 16 years, stepped down following a year of embarrassing scandals, gaffes and bad behavior by his judges. Although pressure was building for Ross to resign for years, many legal observers say it would not have happened if not for the new Broward courthouse blog, JAA Blog. That blog hammered Ross on a daily basis and reported on such incidents as a judge arrested for smoking pot in a park, another judge making an off-color sexual remark and another judge allegedly taking a loan from a defense lawyer appearing before him. The JAA Blog was started in August 2006 by a group of criminal defense lawyers fed up with the way things were being run in the Broward courthouse. They believed that it operated like a “good ol’ boys network” rather than the second-largest county court in Florida. The blog’s founders include criminal defense attorney Bill Gelin of Tribune Legal Services in Fort Lauderdale and assistant public defenders Brian Reidy and Vivian Gariboldi. “I have strong feelings about what is going on in Broward,” Gelin said. “People are upset about the ways things are being done in the criminal justice system. So we formed a group and then thought, ‘Why not have a blog?’ “ Ross declined to comment. Sniper shots? The Broward blog is one of a handful of legal blogs that have started in South Florida in the past two years that have shone a spotlight on the justice system. Supporters credit the blogs with providing valuable information about the inner workings of the court system, and bringing change. Critics counter that the blogs can be venues for inaccurate information and unsubstantiated personal attacks. “The [JAA] blog absolutely effectuated change,” said Broward County Public Defender Howard Finkelstein. “There is no question in my mind that it had a great deal to do with the toppling of the past judicial administration.” Russell Adler, a partner at Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler in Fort Lauderdale, noted that “[s]ince a lot of it is posted anonymously, it gives people the ability to fabricate things and state things that are not true. “It’s like being shot by a sniper � you don’t know where the shot is coming from and you don’t know what the motivation is,” Adler said. Justice Building Blog is anonymous and written by a Miami criminal defense attorney who calls himself “Rumpole of the Bailey.” South Florida Lawyers, started anonymously a month ago, covers civil law in the southern part of the state. The Southern District of Florida blog is run by David O. Markus, a prominent Miami criminal defense attorney and president of the Miami chapter of the Federal Bar Association. While the Southern District of Florida and South Florida Lawyers blogs are intended to share discourse and aggregate newspaper stories, the JAA Blog and the Justice Building Blog are clearly intended to make waves. “People underestimate the impact of the Justice Building Blog, but I believe that every state-court judge, particularly criminal, reads it routinely as well as most of the practitioners,” said Brian Tannebaum, a defense lawyer at Tannebaum Weiss in Miami. “There are a lot of things that happen in the building that people didn’t know about. I think it’s had a huge impact on the way people operate in the criminal courthouse,” Tannebaum said. The downside to the blogs, say readers, is that anonymous responders post information about judges routinely not showing up for work, judges and lawyers having affairs with each other and other salacious rumors. The JAA Blog is not moderated and anyone can post any comment. The anonymous author of the Justice Building Blog recently began moderating the comments section and bans personal rumors and attacks from his blog. “I think it would have a lot more credibility if you had to register your name. Right now, it’s a tremendous catalyst for a lot of controversy that didn’t exist before,” Adler said. Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Leonard Glick said he reads the Justice Building Blog “two to three times a day” and sometimes writes in. “I think it’s an interesting exchange of ideas,” he said. “Some people spoil things by posting juvenile and hurtful things. But it’s not totally a gossip mill. There are elements of important ideas.”

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