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“Will you be able to balance your duties as a single mother of twins with your duties as a Broward judge?” That was the question Broward County Assistant Public Defender Jayme Cassidy says she was asked by a member of the 15th Judicial Circuit Judicial Nomination Commission during her two judicial screening interviews in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Cassidy says the first time she was asked the question by JNC member O’Neal Dozier, pastor of the fundamentalist Worldwide Christian Center in Pompano Beach, she was so surprised that she could barely answer. The second time, she says, she was livid and told the panel that the question was inappropriate. “I have never allowed being a single mother to interfere with my job,” Cassidy told the Miami Daily Business Review. “I’m not a single parent by choice. It’s not my fault.” Cassidy is one of a number of Broward judicial candidates who have complaints about the appropriateness of questions they were asked in recent months by Dozier and other members of the Broward Circuit Court JNC during interviews for bench vacancies. Most of the criticism is directed at Dozier, who, like all JNC members, was appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush. But Coral Springs, Fla., attorney Walter Blake also came in for criticism. JNC member Richard Zaden, a Wilton Manors, Fla., lawyer, defended his panel’s conduct. “I’ve heard nothing shocking. Sometimes the purpose of the question is to bring out an open discussion or see how someone deals with an issue. They’re going to be offended while on the bench from time to time. I haven’t heard of any prejudicial comments made by anyone.” But several applicants interviewed by the Daily Business Review complained that JNC members have asked them: � Whether they are active in their church. � Whether the candidate is a “God-fearing person.” � How they feel about the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2003 ruling striking down a Texas law criminalizing homosexual activity. � How they would feel about having the Ten Commandments posted in their courtroom. It’s unknown whether such issues have arisen in other JNCs around the state. Through a spokesman, Gov. Bush’s general counsel, Rocky Rodriguez, told the Daily Business Review that no one has complained to the governor’s office about the JNC’s questions. The chair of the Broward JNC, Georgina Pozzuoli, could not be reached for comment. Members of the Miami-Dade Circuit Court JNC, and at least one judicial candidate interviewed by the Miami-Dade panel, said they couldn’t recall any inappropriate questions asked in their forum. Two Miami-Dade JNC members expressed disapproval of asking women whether their maternal duties would interfere with serving as judge. “That question has never been asked by our panel,” said JNC member Gerald I. Kornreich, a partner at Kornreich & Terraferma in Miami. “It’s irrelevant.” “If a man or woman had a large family, I don’t think that’s fair game [for questioning],” said Justin Sayfie, a Fort Lauderdale attorney and former top aide to Bush who now serves on the Miami-Dade JNC. “But I could see someone asking that.” Carol Licko, Bush’s former general counsel who serves on the Florida Bar’s Judicial Nominating Procedures Committee, said the question posed to Cassidy about whether she could balance her maternal and judicial duties was inappropriate, as was the question about the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Texas sodomy law case. She said complaints should be filed with the Judicial Nominating Procedures Committee against the JNC members who asked those questions. “That’s why we have the committee, said Licko, a partner at Hogan & Hartson in Miami. “[The judicial candidates] need to file complaints.” Licko said such questions would not be asked by Bush or his staff when JNC finalists were interviewed in Tallahassee. In an interview, the Rev. Dozier, a non-practicing attorney, acknowledged asking some of the questions. But he defended their appropriateness. “I want to know the applicants’ spiritual makeup,” Dozier said. “It tells me a lot about a person. I think a judge should be God-fearing.” The 26 state nominating commissions — one for each judicial circuit, one for each district court, and one for the Supreme Court — are charged with screening and interviewing applicants for state judgeships and sending finalists’ names to the governor. JNC members are required to attend a daylong training session sponsored by the governor’s office and the Florida Bar. They are coached on ethics and the issue of judicial diversity, and are advised on what types of questions are appropriate. The governor formerly shared responsibility with the Bar for appointing JNC members. But Bush and Republican legislative leaders complained that the state judiciary was blocking their legislative agenda. In 2001, in a move widely seen as greatly increasing the governor’s power to shape the judiciary, the GOP-dominated Legislature gave the governor the right to appoint all nine members of each JNC; the Bar’s role was reduced to merely recommending four candidates to the governor. Bush repeatedly has said that he wants a judiciary that reflects his philosophy of government, and has appointed many conservatives to the JNCs. “I’m looking for people who share my philosophy: respect the separation of powers and recognize the judiciary has an important role,” Bush said at a JNC training seminar in Orlando, Fla., last September. “They don’t need to be legislating.” On Jan. 7, Bush’s office told the Review that “the governor does not supply questions to the JNC to ask applicants.” NO COMPROMISE In 2001, Bush appointed Dozier, a black Republican, to the Broward JNC for a two-year term, and reappointed him to a four-year term last year. Dozier said he did not particularly want to be on the JNC, but was nominated by a group of black leaders in the community. “I didn’t think I’m qualified for the JNC,” he said. “I don’t practice law. I thought it should be made up of practicing lawyers.” But now that he’s on the JNC, he isn’t shy about pressing his views on judicial candidates. “This country is founded on the principles of Christianity, not the principles of Buddhism, not the principles of Judaism,” the South Florida Sun-Sentinel quoted him as saying Nov. 30, 2003. “I don’t believe the developers of the Constitution would want us to compromise our Christian values.” Dozier is vehemently opposed to homosexuality, which he called in the Nov. 27, 2003, issue of New Times Broward Palm Beach “something so nasty and disgusting that it makes God want to vomit.” Dozier said he has received complaints from “atheists” who heard about his line of religiously oriented questioning during JNC interviews. But he argues that religion belongs on the bench. “There is no such animal as separation of church and state in the Constitution,” he said. But Dozier denied that he asked Cassidy, who has 4-year-old twins, whether she can be a single mother and a judge at the same time. He insisted the question was posed by another JNC member. “I know mothers who have two, three, four, five different kids and still function fine,” he said. “To me that’s not an issue.” Cassidy insists the question came from Dozier. She said she was so upset that she discussed it with her superiors in the Broward public defender’s office, who initially planned to investigate the legality of the question. “My first thought when he asked that was, he must not be a lawyer to ask such a question,” she said. Cassidy wasn’t the only one asked this type of question. The husband of another Broward judicial candidate told the Review he was contacted by a Broward JNC member and asked whether his wife could balance motherhood and judicial service. Dozier does not deny asking Broward General Master Marina Garcia Wood how she felt about the U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down the Texas prohibition against homosexual activity. “I am totally against that ruling,” Dozier said. “We cannot have a judge who feels sodomy is OK.” Dozier, however, said he is not opposed to gays or lesbians serving on the bench — “as long as [they] can assure me [they] would not promote sodomy.” Last year, after voting to recommend one candidate for a Broward judicial vacancy, Dozier said he was surprised and disconcerted to get information that the person is gay. “If I had known, I would have taken the opportunity to search further and investigate,” he said. “It’s up to us to ask questions and investigate.” The governor subsequently appointed the person to the Broward bench. “My personal life has nothing to do with my ability to do the job,” the judge said. “I don’t think someone’s personal life should be brought up during the interview.” SURPRISED Another candidate who objected to Dozier’s questioning is Maria Schneider, chief of the juvenile division of the Broward State Attorney’s Office who was interviewed for a Broward judicial seat. She said she was offended by Dozier’s question about whether she is a “God-fearing person.” But like most candidates asked that question, she answered anyway, partially out of surprise and partially out of her desire to be chosen as a judge. Her answer: “I’m not particularly religious, but I am spiritual.” She said she also was asked by another Broward JNC member, Coral Springs attorney Walter Blake, whether she would favor having the Ten Commandments posted in her courtroom. “Because of the separation of church and state,” she replied, “it probably did not belong there.” Blake told the Review that he asked the Ten Commandments question “because it was a topical issue at the time.” But Miami-Dade JNC member and former Bush aide Justin Sayfie said he “didn’t understand the purpose of that question.” Judicial candidate Frank Negron, a Broward assistant public defender who applied for a judicial vacancy, said he also was taken aback by some of the questions from Broward JNC members. Negron said he was surprised that JNC members produced his record of voting in municipal elections and asked him about it. He said the Rev. Dozier asked him if he is God-fearing and active in his church. Those questions “came out of left field,” Negron said. He also was dismayed to be asked which two U.S. Supreme Court justices he most admires. “It could be a litmus test question,” he told the Review. But JNC member Richard Zaden generally defended Dozier’s questions, including questions about balancing parenthood and judicial service. All questions are fair game except those concerning race, religion, sexual orientation and political affiliation, he said. But he said he would not ask questions about religious views and activity. Asked specifically about Dozier, Zaden said, “the reverend is a good person.” Harris Meyer provided additional reporting for this article.

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