Left to right: Richard Llerena, Sara Alijewicz and Jeremy Zubkoff are running for Palm Beach County Court judge, Group 5. Courtesy photos

As part of the Daily Business Review’s coverage of the primary election set for Aug. 28, 2018, here’s part of a series of Q&As with South Florida candidates running for judgeships. Responses have been edited for style and content.

General magistrate Sara Alijewicz and civil trial attorneys Richard Llerena and Jeremy Zubkoff are running for Palm Beach County Court judge, Group 5. Here’s what they had to say about what qualifies them for the bench.


Richard Llerena

Llerena has been practicing since 2005 and specializes in auto accidents, traffic infractions, personal injury, immigration and business litigation. He has represented corporations, focused on civil litigation, employment law and construction law. Llerena is also the former counselor to a major insurance group and has represented large corporations in liability cases. He founded Llerena Law in West Palm Beach in 2010 and says his career has kept him in county, circuit and federal courtrooms almost weekly.

A lifelong South Floridian, Llerena graduated with honors from the University of Miami in 2002, and from the University of Florida Levin College of Law in 2005. He serves as treasurer and board member to nonprofit organization Lake Worth West Resident Planning Group, which offers programs, activities and resources for children and young people in Palm Beach County.

Why do you want to be a county court judge?

Llerena: Since childhood, I had an innate desire to play an instrumental role in our justice system. My parents emigrated from Cuba to the U.S. at a time when the freedoms and liberties granted by our constitution were nonexistent in their native country. People were imprisoned for their political views, practicing the religion of their choice, or because of their sexual orientation, for example. Listening to the wisdom of my family, who all made the difficult journey to the U.S., inspired me to protect those liberties offered by our Constitution.

Now I am at a stage in my life where my intellect, my energy, passion and fearlessness to uphold fundamental constitutional rights will best serve the citizens of Palm Beach County. I will work tirelessly to reduce the backlog of cases for the benefit of litigants or defendants, so that they can obtain a quicker resolution.

What about your experience qualifies you for the position?

Llerena: The significant amount of time spent representing clients in county criminal court, county civil court and circuit civil court. During my last year of law school, I served as a certified legal intern for the Alachua County State Attorney’s Office, assisting in the prosecution of cases. I launched my legal career working for a major insurance group, representing some of the largest corporations in the nation, as well as individuals who had been sued and were defendants in litigation. Thereafter, I decided to use my fluency in Spanish to assist victims of negligence and work-related accidents. In 2010, I launched my law practice, with the intent of not only assisting people in civil cases, but also immigration cases, helping the accused and their families with proper criminal defense to get their lives back on track.

My experience in federal law, immigration law and administrative law will also serve to assist me in the resolution of conflicts of law, and in analyzing the jurisdiction of cases, as well as other substantive matters that may come before me. My passion and energy will serve to properly make decisions at the snap of a finger, yet realize where a narrow gray area would require me to conduct additional research and render a decision later in the day or the following day.

What’s your biggest achievement so far?

Llerena: I prevailed in an immigration appeal that was instrumental in reversing the decision of the director for the California Service Center for the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. The case involved a U.S. citizen-Jamaican father who attempted to bring his biological daughter to the U.S,, and it demonstrates how I would apply fundamental constitutional standards and achieve consistency as best as possible. Despite presenting sufficient evidence of biological relationship, the petition was denied because, at the time, immigration case law distinctions between “legitimate,” “illegitimate,” born “within wedlock” or “out of wedlock,” and even worse, required the immigration officer to review the laws of the beneficiary’s native country for the purpose of determining what category the child fell into to approve or deny the petition.

My client had submitted a DNA test prepared by a certified facility reflecting a match, but the father’s name did not appear on the child’s birth certificate and the immigration officer denied the petition. The decision was reversed on appeal, which resulted in a major decision from the Board of Immigration Appeals clarifying that natives of Jamaica were not required to establish “legitimization” by way of additional evidence as a result of a combination of factors. Fortunately, my client was reunited with his daughter.

What would a successful term look like for you?

Llerena: Restoring faith in the justice system. Fostering an environment where all individuals, attorneys, litigants, witnesses, jurors and accused defendants do not fear the justice system, but rather, embrace it. If fortunate to be elected, I would accomplish this by being respectful, professional, well-prepared, efficient, and giving a voice to all persons in the courtroom. Most importantly, my goal is to protect and uphold fundamental constitutional rights. My Hispanic heritage is a part of who I am, and I hope this will assist persons of all national origins who are fearful or confused of our justice system to feel respected and educated when walking out of the courtroom.

What is the most important issue facing the Palm Beach county courts at the moment?

Llerena: Overpopulation combined with budget cuts. Without sufficient judicial staff and judges to move the quantity of cases in the system, backlogs will only continue to grow and inhibit case resolution.


 

Sara Alijewicz

Alijewicz has more than 23 years of legal experience and has handled thousands of cases as former general magistrate in Palm Beach County. Over the past eight years, she’s conducted hearings and trials involving family law, substance abuse, involuntary commitments under the Baker Act and led dependency judicial reviews.

Alijewicz has lived in Florida for more than 30 years, but grew up in Illinois. She graduated from Illinois Wesleyan University in 1984 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Natural Science and became a medical technologist. After she moved to Florida, she pursued her dream of being a lawyer and graduated from Nova Southeastern in 1994. She’s been practicing in Palm Beach County ever since. Alijewicz has two children, and recently became a grandparent, with her husband Alex Alijewicz.

Why do you want to be a county court judge?

Alijewicz: I have a strong commitment to serving the public and believe that my knowledge and experience make me uniquely qualified to serve as a county court judge for the citizens of Palm Beach County. I believe my experiences as both a lawyer and general magistrate have demonstrated my commitment to serve the needs of the community. As a general magistrate I have presided over issues that impact people’s daily lives. I know that it is important for litigants, lawyers and every person involved in the court system to be treated fairly, respectfully, and have their cases resolved in a timely manner.

What about your experience qualifies you for the position?

Alijewicz: As a general magistrate I handled thousands of cases and presided over all of the hearings and trials for the cases referred to me. Because of the types of cases that are assigned to magistrates I have ruled on issues ranging form contract interpretation, collection matters, child custody, Baker Acts and Marchman Acts. Also, because homes and property are often involved, I am versed in foreclosure and bankruptcy. In addition to those issues, my experience presiding over dependency judicial reviews, Marchman Act cases, and marital and family cases requires a firm understanding of criminal procedure and laws.

What’s your biggest achievement so far?

Alijewicz: My biggest accomplishment, along with my husband, is raising two children who are also committed to public service. My son works for a nonprofit international student exchange program, and my daughter is the deputy director of finance for the Medicaid Program of Rhode Island.

What would a successful term look like for you?

Alijewicz: A successful term would be working toward an educational program for self-represented litigants at the county court level, so that they could know what to expect when they come to the courthouse. Also, I would like to participate in refining the paperless system that is already in place, because I have seen how that system increases productivity and efficiency.

What is the most important issue facing the Palm Beach County courts at the moment?

Alijewicz: The most important issue facing courts generally, and therefore Palm Beach County, is funding for the courts. There is an increased need for funding for diversionary services of all types. There is a special need to address salaries for the assistants to judges, magistrates, case managers and other employees who staff the courts. Their low salaries create employee turnover that affects the efficiency of the court system.


 

Jeremy Zubkoff

Zubkoff is a civil trial attorney practicing in county, circuit, federal and appellate court, with offices in Palm Beach and Broward counties. He said his broad civil trial experience and even temperament are an ideal match for the county court bench. Zubkoff specializes in condominium law, real estate and commercial litigation, and has represented plaintiffs and defendants equally.

Zubkoff was born in New York and recieved his juris doctor at Santa Clara University in California. He’s also received the Witkin Award for Academic Excellence in International Law and Organizations, and the CALI Award for Excellence in International Law in Emergency Situations.

Why do you want to be a county court judge?

Zubkoff: Combining my love of the law with my desire to serve the community compelled me to become a county court judge. Being able to help people and continue my career in the courtroom is a winning proposition for myself and the people of Palm Beach County.

What about your experience qualifies you for the position?

Zubkoff: I am a trial attorney who has handled more than 80 civil trials in just about every type of civil case. My trial experience and having handled so many different types of cases differentiate me from all other candidates. Throughout my career, I have always considered both sides of a case, because on any given day my clients were on one side of the case or the other. This broad experience ensures that I will be fair and impartial to all litigants.

What’s your biggest achievement so far?

Zubkoff: While I have numerous published decisions and have won many large verdicts, one of my proudest achievements is earning the respect of my peers. Other attorneys have described me as a “lawyer’s lawyer” because I am knowledgeable, respectful and efficient. I am proud of the fact that many of my cases and clients have been referred by other attorneys that were once opposing counsel.

What would a successful term look like for you?

Zubkoff: I am looking forward to running the most efficient courtroom in Palm Beach County, and would consider my term a success if litigants were able to receive speedy and fair resolutions to their cases.

What is the most important issue facing the Palm Beach County courts at the moment?

Zubkoff: As a litigator, I believe one of the biggest issues in the Palm Beach County courts is an overcrowded docket making it difficult to get hearing dates and trials. Attorneys and litigants should not have to wait months to have a hearing. I intend to be proactive and will move cases along to clear up the backlog of cases. Palm Beach County deserves to have speedy resolutions to cases and I will work hard to achieve that goal.

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