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The battle over a state trial court judgeship in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is turning into a religious and partisan war. The race pits Broward County Circuit Judge Cheryl Aleman against criminal defense attorney Robert Malove. Aleman is a conservative Christian and former president of the Broward County chapter of the Christian Legal Society. Malove is a Jew who worships at an ultra-orthodox Lubavitcher synagogue, does not use electricity on the Sabbath, and quotes Old Testament passages to other lawyers. Malove, a former Broward County assistant public defender, says he will file to run for Aleman’s seat in the September 2004 judicial election. He has the backing of Public Defender Alan Schreiber, one of Broward’s judicial kingmakers. Malove vows to keep his religion separate from his rulings — something he claims Aleman has not done. “I think it’s great that a person has faith,” Malove said. “But it’s private. I have an obligation to follow the law. That will be my priority if I am elected. I’m not running as an observant Jew.” Even though it’s long been considered taboo in Broward County to challenge an incumbent judge, Broward criminal defense lawyers and Democrats have vowed for months to find someone to run against Aleman. They say Aleman, who was appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush in January of last year, has allowed her fundamentalist religious and political views to influence her rulings. But some observers are nervous about the religious and partisan overtones of the brewing election battle, and see a growing backlash to the criticism of Aleman. “We have a fundamentalist Jew running against a fundamentalist Christian,” said Ron Gunzburger, an attorney in Broward County Property Appraiser William Markham’s office who unsuccessfully ran for a Broward Circuit Court seat last year. “How strange that we are traveling down a path where judicial candidates are touting their religions. Maybe a secular humanist will run, too.” Aleman did not return calls for comment. At her formal robing in January 2002, she shocked judges and lawyers who were present by talking in detail about her personal religious views and practices and saying that God called her to be a judge. Despite Malove’s vow to keep religion separate, he recently explained to a lawyer why he was running by quoting from Deuteronomy: “Justice, justice shall thou pursue.” Malove says those words can be read on posters that many lawyers have in their offices. CONTROVERSIAL TEMPLE Malove worships at a controversial Lubavitcher synagogue, Chabad of Hollywood, which is located in two houses on a residential street. After neighbors complained about the location of the busy temple in the middle of their residential block, a divided Hollywood City Commission voted to force them out. The Chabad is suing the city to obtain an injunction to stay. Malove, however, said he’s not a Lubavitcher but that he likes praying at that synagogue every morning, when he’s not in court, because it has “an open-door policy. I like the authenticity of what’s going on.” Malove, 45, lives in Broward County and is a partner at Fisher Lawrence & Malove in Miami-Dade County who focuses on criminal defense. He handles cases in both counties. A former Broward assistant public defender, he said he was nudged to run against Judge Aleman by Schreiber. “I always thought about being a judge, and the timing and circumstances just presented themselves,” Malove said. “I figured the people of Broward County ought to be able to do better.” Aleman, 44, a former prosecutor with Florida’s Office of Statewide Prosecution, has sparked controversy since Gov. Bush appointed her to the bench. She is a past president of the Broward chapter of the Christian Legal Society, a national organization of lawyers and judges that has filed lawsuits to stop the federal government from funding embryonic stem cell research and in support of vouchers for private schools. She has issued several controversial rulings that were overturned and that drew local news media attention. In one case, Aleman refused to release a prisoner who was dying of AIDS to allow him to spend his last days with his family, even though the prosecutor in the case agreed to the release. Broward Chief Judge Dale Ross overruled her and sent the dying man home. Defense lawyers also have complained that Aleman is more rigid than other judges, requiring everything in writing and scheduling hearings as late as 7 p.m. on Fridays. ‘A TAINTED RACE’ Schreiber, other defense lawyers and Broward Democratic Party chairman Mitch Ceasar have shopped around for someone to run against Aleman for months. But Ceasar’s involvement in what is supposed to be a nonpartisan race — and critical comments he made about Aleman’s religious views — have prompted statements of support for Aleman. One of her supporters is Broward Republican Party chairman Kevin Tynan, who serves on her re-election committee. Others, such as Broward Assistant Public Defender Howard Finkelstein, heir apparent to succeed Schreiber, say they’re offended by the religion-oriented criticisms of Aleman, and appear to be backing away from supporting a challenge against her. “There’s no doubt that what Mitch Ceasar did backfired,” said state Sen. Walter “Skip” Campbell, D-Tamarac, a partner at Krupnick Campbell Malone Buser Slama Hancock McNelis Liberman & McKee in Fort Lauderdale. “One attorney has already pulled out of the race. It’s become a tainted race.” Schreiber acknowledged that in Broward, where it’s long been considered bad form to run against an incumbent judge, many lawyers remain reluctant to open their wallets to back a challenger to Aleman. “Most lawyers don’t have guts,” he said.

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