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Despite a national call for reform in judicial elections, Broward County, Fla., is gearing up for the longest, most expensive and most contentious circuit court election in memory — 11 months before Election Day. That’s eliciting sharp criticism from judicial watchdogs who see the copious amounts of money raised, the use of for-hire campaign consultants and the heavy campaigning that starts a year and a half before the election as further evidence of the politicization of the bench. Making matters even more interesting, several of Broward’s leading power brokers have a horse in the race for four open seats. The candidates who’ve applied so far are, variously, relatives, employees or proteges of the political heavyweights or are receiving one of the power broker’s campaign or financial support. Four Broward Circuit Court judges are retiring next year — Robert Collins, John Miller, W. Herbert Moriarty and Leonard Stafford — the largest number of retiring jurists in at least six years. Even though 24 judges of the circuit’s 59 judges are up for re-election in September 2002, it’s rare for anyone in Broward to challenge a sitting judge, unlike in Miami-Dade. The real contest is for the four open seats. Two candidates have filed so far to run for each of those four seats, and more are likely to apply. It’s likely that some of the races will be three-way or four-way contests. The application deadline is July 26. Why do so many lawyers want to be judges? Money, for one thing. The judgeships pay $133,000 a year; in Broward, where competition among lawyers for business is fierce, that’s a good, reliable salary for many lawyers. Plus, judges set their own hours and get holidays and weekends off, unlike in often-pressured private practice. And they only have to stand for re-election every six years, with opposition unlikely. The trend nationwide is for judges to be appointed, not elected. But Floridians last year voted overwhelmingly to continue electing their judges. Still, some question whether the increasing politicization of the bench is a good thing. “We should not choose judges in the same way we choose city commissioners,” says Doug Kendall, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Community Rights Counsel, a liberal judicial watchdog group. “There should be a strong, nonpartisan judicial nominating commission picking judges. These elections smack of lobbying and influence peddling.” Judicial political races also are heating up in Miami-Dade County, where several incumbent judges already have begun raising money for their campaign war chests. Many were shaken last year when veteran County Court Judge Harvey Goldstein was defeated by neophyte Karen Mills. Experts say Goldstein was too sluggish in raising money to counter the election threat. As a result, some in Miami-Dade already have banked more than $100,000 — even though the election isn’t until November of next year. But accepting campaign contributions from business interests leads to at least an appearance of impropriety. “No one has ever come to me and asked for a favor, but I’ve heard of it happening to other judges,” says Broward Circuit Judge Julie Koenig, who was first elected in 1994. Until 1995, judicial candidates in Florida were not allowed to start campaigning more than a year before Election Day. But six years ago, a federal judge struck down that rule as unconstitutional. So now, the campaigning is starting earlier and earlier. THE JUDGEMAKERS While the Broward judicial candidates have kept relatively low profiles so far, the mud is already flying between their mentors, who include several of the county’s most senior political operatives. They include political consultant Tony Gargiulo, famed condo commander Amadeo “Trinchi” Trinchitella, campaign consultant Barbara Miller, Plantation, Fla., condo boss Phil Halle, Broward Public Defender Alan Schreiber, and Broward Democratic Party chairman Mitch Ceasar. The most aggressive operative so far has been Gargiulo, who’s alternately called Tony G. and “the judgemaker.” Gargiulo, 75, a retired New York City cop and former aide to ex-Broward sheriff and congressman Ed Stack, previously has helped put 10 attorneys on the Broward bench, and only struck out with one candidate. Gargiulo is backing a candidate for each of the four open seats. His slate includes Michael Orlando, a solo lawyer and the son of Broward Circuit Judge Frank Orlando, who took a leave of absence to help his son campaign; John Bowman, who runs his own law firm, which he took over from Broward County Court Judge Louis Schiff; David Krathen, a solo lawyer with 29 years’ experience; and Hope Tieman Bristol, a partner in her husband’s law firm who worked for 10 years in the Broward state attorney’s office. Gargiulo calls personal injury lawyer Krathen “my big fish,” his most qualified candidate. Taking no chances, Krathen also has signed up a second clout-heavy political consultant, Barbara Miller, to help him get elected. Krathen is paying her an initial retainer of $5,000, with more to come. Gargiulo, who signed on with the four candidates in January, estimates that Broward judicial campaigns generally cost $200,000, with postage the biggest expense. His fee is $25,000. But he downplays the pecuniary factor for his involvement. “This is not about the money,” he says. If a candidate he liked didn’t have the money, he says, he would lower his fee and run a leaner campaign for $50,000 instead of $200,000. For example, he says, he ran Circuit Judge John Frusciante’s campaign for just $80,000. Gargiulo’s early start on campaigning with his four candidates — he began in January — and his high fee have sparked criticism from some observers. “This is all about the money,” says Mitch Ceasar. “For people to hire political guns for tens of thousands of dollars and start campaigning two or more years in advance is distasteful. I don’t blame the candidates — they’ve allowed themselves to become political pawns.” Trinchitella, 84, known as the political boss of the vote-rich Century Village condominium complex in Deerfield Beach, Fla., and a member of the Deerfield Beach City Commission, also criticizes Gargiulo, as does Alan Schreiber. TRASH TALK But at least some of these attacks on Gargiulo are competitive trash talk. Trinchitella’s grandson, Nicholas “Nick” Lopane, a Broward County general master, is running against Krathen. Schreiber has put up one of his assistant public defenders, Mila Schwartzreich, to run against Orlando. “She’s a political superstar in the making, and she’s beautiful,” Schreiber says of Schwartzreich. Last year, on his office’s Web site, Schreiber posted a photo of himself with his arm around the employee. Ceasar is quietly backing Alan Marks, political observers say. Ceasar won’t confirm that, saying only that “I have friends in both sides of the race.” But Marks, who’s been a Port Everglades, Fla., commissioner and a general master, says, “He’s my friend. I hope he’s supporting me.” Gargiulo says Ceasar isn’t telling the whole truth about his involvement with Marks; he claims Ceasar asked him to represent Marks. Ceasar denies that. “That conversation never took place,” he says. Halle, 94, former president of the Broward Coalition, an umbrella group of 65 condominium and homeowner associations, also has a grandson in the race. Andrew Siegel, a Plantation solo lawyer, is running against Gargiulo’s candidate Hope Tieman Bristol. Gargiulo and Schreiber have faced off before as backers of rival judicial candidates, and Gargiulo is more than willing to take a few jabs at the public defender. “He may be a little cocky,” Gargiulo says of Schreiber. “Is he powerful? Maybe in his own little office.” For his part, Schreiber portrays the upcoming race as a personal showdown between himself and Gargiulo, though other observers think that’s overstated. Says Schreiber of Gargiulo: “He’s an old, greedy man. He’s got some influence, but we’ve got the biggest political machine in the county. We can put 100 people on the street.” Still, political insiders say Gargiulo has more to fear from Trinchitella, who’s said to control thousands of votes in West Broward. He’s considered so influential that politicians like Gov. Jeb Bush, Janet Reno and Al Gore feel obliged to pay their respects to him in person when they’re in Broward. While the two old-time politicos have been on opposing sides before, it was never this personal. Trinchitella feels Gargiulo has betrayed him in the upcoming judicial election. He says he’s “handed” Gargiulo’s candidates thousands of condo votes over 20 years. Now he’s furious that the judgemaker refused to support his grandson, Lopane, for the bench. “When I told him about my grandson, he put out his hand and said, ‘We gotta talk,’ ” says Trinchitella. “ He knew he was backing all four at that time but he didn’t tell me. He’s doing this for 30 pieces of silver. We’re going to break the backs of these people.” Aside from the family grievance, Trinchitella insists his real beef against Gargiulo is he’s offended that the former cop is taking money for helping judicial candidates. Trinchitella claims he only just learned that Gargiulo accepts a fee for his services. “I think it’s immoral and wrong,” he says. “A judgeship is a step above some of the other offices. I never got a dime for helping anyone get elected.” Despite taking a fee, Gargiulo insists that he’s very particular about the qualifications of the lawyers he backs for judgeships. He says he interviews all potential clients three times and even meets with their families. That’s confirmed by Judge Koenig, who hired Gargiulo when she campaigned for the bench in 1994. WHAT IT TAKES Michael Orlando says he first wanted to run for judge five years ago, and approached Gargiulo. Gargiulo told him that, at age 35, he needed more seasoning and urged him to be patient. Then, last year, the judgemaker agreed to meet with him. He spent an entire afternoon in January interviewing Orlando, asking “every conceivable question about my character and my family,” then did some checking around. Finally, two weeks later, he agreed to help Orlando. As for criticism that he started campaigning too early, he shrugs it off. “This county is getting so big you have to start early,” he explains. Barbara Miller agrees, noting that candidates for most other offices run in smaller districts and don’t need as much time to reach voters. Gargiulo started campaigning with his candidates “at a medium pace” in January and kicked it into high gear this month. He puts his candidates on a grueling schedule, requiring them to attend several functions a day, and he’s right there at their side. “Tony knows everyone in Broward County, and he introduced me to them,” Judge Koenig says. “His philosophy is to get out and meet the voters. That’s what I did. I gave out 90,000 business cards that had my background printed on them, and I smiled. I think that made the difference in winning an election.” Koenig says she was the underdog in the race but, with Gargiulo’s help, was able to press the flesh more than her opponent, who had three small children. “I always did exactly what Tony said and never complained.” She notes that Gargiulo’s other cardinal rule is no negative campaigning. “I thought maybe we should point out the opposition’s flaws,” she says. “But he said, ‘No way.’ “ Koenig sees nothing unethical about Gargiulo accepting money. “That’s his business, his service, his time,” she says. “He’s there right with you, he’s not in an easy chair somewhere. I remember, once I went to a breakfast at the Rolling Hills Country Club [in Davie, Fla.]. I got there at 7 a.m., and there he was in the parking lot, looking at his watch.” Does the judgemaker plan to retire anytime soon? “I’ve been trying to,” Gargiulo says. “But I have some people who already have hired me for two years from now.”

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