A post on the Justice Building Blog laid out a litany of lawsuits against judicial candidate Elena Ortega-Tauler the first time the Doral lawyer ran for public office to become a Miami-Dade judge.
It listed four foreclosure actions, 14 debt collection suits, divorce proceedings, a domestic violence restraining order by a former law partner and a suspension in a Florida Bar ethics case for trust account violations.
That was about eight years ago, and Ortega-Tauler lost to Migna Sanchez-Llorens, now a judge in Miami-Dade Circuit Court’s family division.
But now, her past is coming back to haunt her as Ortega-Tauler seeks once again to become a judge — this time in a race against Miami litigator Michael Barket to replace outgoing County Court Judge Don Cohn in the Group 40 seat. The job pays about $138,000 a year.
Ortega-Tauler’s critics are circulating details of an April court order in a derailed business deal between the Tauler Law Firm and Alta Financial LLC, formerly known as Business Backer LLC.
The would-be jurist concedes she has a less-than-traditional background compared with others on the ballot. Divorced with six children, Ortega-Tauler counters her critics’ depiction of her with one more sympathetic. Born in Cuba and the first in her family to graduate college, she said she became an attorney to work as an advocate. Clients of her immigration and foreclosure defense practices are often low income and migrants. She also volunteers with nonprofits to put low-income workers on the path to homeownership.
“I’m not the candidate with the money,” Ortega-Tauler said Tuesday. “But I am the candidate who has it in her heart to fight for equality and fight for justice. … If I have a pattern, my pattern is helping the community. That’s what I’ve been doing all my life.”
Her latest piece of bad public relations involves a failed deal to sell her firm’s accounts receivables to Alta for $25,000 in 2014. Less than three years later, Alta had filed suit in February 2017, claiming the attorney and her firm failed to fulfill their end of the deal. The company won summary judgment after the law firm failed to answer the suit for an award of $30,500 plus interest, $747 in attorney fees and nearly $400 in court costs.
Ortega-Tauler said she has resolved the Alta dispute, negotiated mortgage modifications, owned up to her financial struggles and taken steps to resolve all issues with her creditors. She thinks news of her hardships make her relatable to voters in a state that was among the hardest hit by the housing crash.
“I struggle. I’ve had a bad economy, just like everybody else,” she said. “I don’t think a judge who sits in an ivory tower is always the right person to identify with somebody who can’t pay their rent.”
Meanwhile, the candidates are closing in on the Aug. 28 election.
Barket, who was admitted to the bar in 1999, practices family, probate and real property law in Miami.
“My record speaks for itself. I think both of our records speak for themselves,” he said. “I do believe I have a very good reputation in the community. I’ve never been disciplined or anything like that. … I’m a hardworking attorney. It’s time for me to give back to my community, and I want to be a judge.”
By deadline Tuesday, Barket has raised $56,730 in monetary and $3,545 in in-kind contributions against total expenditures and distributions of $18,942.
Ortega-Tauler raised $18,150 in monetary and $2,300 in in-kind contributions, with total expenditures and distributions of $13,591.
Read the decision against Tauler Law Firm: