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In a surprise decision, the White House has rebuffed all three nominees for a pending federal judgeship in Miami — including outgoing U.S. Attorney Guy Lewis — and asked a state nominating board to submit three new names. No reason was given for the decision, disclosed privately by the White House on April 9. But speculation immediately focused on possible political and ethnic considerations related to the re-election bid of the president’s brother, Gov. Jeb Bush. Besides Lewis, who in nearly two years in office has gained a reputation as an aggressive prosecutor, the White House also turned aside the nominations of two highly regarded state judges, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jerald Bagley and Broward Circuit Judge James I. Cohn. Lewis is a prot�g� of former Republican U.S. Attorney Thomas E. Scott. He applied for the post when Scott stepped down, but lost out to Marcos Jimenez, a partner in the Miami office of White & Case whose appointment is awaiting Senate confirmation. Bagley and Cohn are both Democrats and previous nominees for federal judgeships. Bagley declined to comment for this story. Lewis and Cohn could not be reached for comment before deadline. The decision follows weeks of courthouse speculation that the White House was unhappy with the trio of nominees, who were recommended to the president by South Florida’s Federal Judicial Nominating Commission on Feb. 27. In a letter Tuesday to the commission’s members, state JNC chairman Roberto Martinez asked them to convene again in secret on May 1 in Broward to choose three new names to be forwarded to the president. The letter says the White House will consider all six names, but the call for three additional names was widely perceived — even by some JNC members — as a rejection of the first batch. “The White House has indicated that, for the current judicial vacancy, it wants to interview and consider three candidates who have not been previously certified by our commission for the president’s consideration,” Martinez wrote. Martinez, a former U.S. attorney and a partner at Colson Hicks Eidson in Coral Gables, declined to comment beyond what he said in the letter. The names are to be forwarded to Gov. Bush, U.S. Rep. Bill Young, R-St. Petersburg, and U.S. Rep. E. Clay Shaw Jr., R-Fort Lauderdale, who then will submit the new slate to President Bush, the letter said. JNC member Karen Margulies said she’s been told that no new applications for the post will be taken. Rather, the local JNC will choose from the nine other finalists who were interviewed but passed over earlier this year. Those finalists are: Miami-Dade Circuit Judges Juan Ramirez and Cecilia Altonaga, Miami U.S. Magistrate Ted Bandstra, Miami U.S. Immigration Judge Lilliana Torreh-Bayouth, Miami assistant U.S. attorney Caroline Heck-Miller, attorney Michael A. Hanzman of Hanzman & Criden, Broward Circuit Judge Robert A. Rosenberg, Fort Lauderdale U.S. Magistrate Barry Seltzer, and D. Culver Smith III, a partner at Holland & Knight in West Palm Beach. Martinez’s letter offered no explanation for the White House’s decision. And both Margulies and fellow JNC member Fort Lauderdale attorney Davis W. “Bill” Duke Jr. of Duke Mullin & Galloway said they’ve been given no explanation. “My very first question when Bob [Martinez] called me about this was, ‘Were they being rejected?” He said, ‘Absolutely not.’ I can only go on what I’ve been told,” said Margulies, a Hollywood civic activist. “Am I disappointed? Sure. But I will also say that all the candidates we interviewed were highly qualified.” One knowledgeable political observer in South Florida who spoke on condition of anonymity said he believes the White House’s decision-making is being driven by political considerations relating to the re-election campaign of Gov. Bush. The idea: to appoint more Cuban Americans in an effort to boost Gov. Bush’s re-election bid. “This is all about November,” the source said. It’s no secret that the White House is looking to put more Hispanics in positions of power in Miami. In January, President Bush nominated Miami lawyer and Republican stalwart Jose E. Martinez, a native of the Dominican Republic, to fill one of two open federal judgeships. (The Senate must confirm judicial appointments.) Likewise, in December, Martinez told the Daily Business Review that diversity would be a major consideration in the selection for the current judicial opening. “I’ve been told directly by the White House counsel’s office that the president would like to have an opportunity to diversify the federal bench and be presented with quality candidates from which to make that decision,” Martinez said. He added: “We’re not telling the Anglo community not to bother.” None of the first three nominees is of Hispanic origin, though Bagley is an African American. The person ultimately selected will fill the seat that became open when U.S. District Judge Shelby Highsmith took senior status in March.

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