L-R: Corey Amanda Cawthon, Leonore M. Greller and Tanner Channing Demmery are running for Broward County Court judge. Courtesy photos

This installment of the Daily Business Review’s coverage of South Florida candidates in the August primary election features a Q&A with candidates for Broward County Court judge, Group 9. Here’s what civil litigator Corey Amanda Cawthon, Assistant Public Defender Tanner Channing Demmery and family mediator and arbitrator Leonore M. Greller had to say about what qualifies them for the bench. Responses have been edited for style and content.

 Corey Amanda Cawthon

Cawthon grew up in Broward County and obtained her  bachelor’s and law degrees from Nova Southeastern University. While at NSU, Cawthon was a member of the honors and dual-admission programs, which allowed her to pursue her undergraduate and law school studies on an accelerated track and to graduate one year earlier than most in similar programs. Cawthon is a lifelong resident of Plantation, where she is also a member of the Plantation Junior Woman’s Club, which hosts a number of fundraising events for both the Make-A-Wish Foundation and local student scholarships.

In her legal practice, Cawthon has represented individuals and businesses as both plaintiffs and defendants in a variety of cases, including personal injury protection, contract disputes, business transactions and litigation, real estate transactions and litigation, foreclosures and estate planning.

Why do you want to become a county court judge?

Cawthon: As a lifelong resident of Broward County, my roots run deep in this community. I am proud to call this place my home and, as we all do, I want to contribute to and take care of that home. I want to make a difference in our community through public service. As someone who comes from a family of law enforcement officers and military veterans, both true examples of public servants, I was raised to know what it means both to want to make a difference in our community and to take action to make that difference. Broward’s voters can be confident that I will always act in the best interest of our community and that I will always maintain my position with the honor, integrity and humility required of our judges.

What about your experience qualifies you for the position?

Cawthon: I believe that my experience as a civil litigator in Broward County is what qualifies me for a position as one of its judges and is what makes me the best candidate. Presently, the majority of our judges in Broward have backgrounds exclusively in criminal law, though many of them have or will ultimately serve in the civil divisions of our courts. This is where I believe my greatest strength lies — my ability to bring balance to the bench with my background in civil law. While it is, of course, necessary to have judges with backgrounds in criminal law, it is similarly necessary to have judges with backgrounds like mine, as more than 80 percent of the cases filed in Broward county are civil cases.

During my years of practice, I have worked in a variety of areas of civil law and have been very fortunate in my career in the sense that I have had the great experience of representing many different individuals and businesses as both plaintiffs and defendants. Each of these cases has brought with it new insight into our legal system and into our community, helping me to gain the knowledge and experience that has led me to where I am today.

What’s your biggest achievement so far?

Cawthon: In my personal life, I consider my biggest achievement so far to be the purchase of my first home, which I made last year in Plantation. With the cost of living, especially in Florida, many people struggle to achieve one of the main goals of the “American dream,” owning a home. I worked hard to achieve this for myself and was lucky enough to do so on my own at the age of 30 in my hometown of Plantation, an accomplishment which still gives me a huge sense of pride in the work I put into pursuing and accomplishing that goal.

In my professional life, I consider my biggest achievement to be taking on this judicial campaign. There are few that would attempt such a thing at my age, but when the opportunity came I didn’t hesitate. Though the goal is obviously to win the election, I consider my campaign a success regardless of the outcome. I have met some truly amazing people in our community along the way, and as a lifelong Broward resident it gives me an enormous sense of pride to see the community organizations that have endorsed my campaign, including the Sun Sentinel, the Fraternal Order of Police and the Broward County Council of Professional Firefighters.

What would a successful term look like to you?

Cawthon: If I am given the honor of serving as a judge in Broward County, then my hope is to serve in this role with the honor, integrity and humility that is required of our judges, who we must remember are public servants to the community first and foremost. I am one of the few Florida natives who has grown up in Broward county. This is my community, and I am proud to call it my home. Unfortunately, there have been times when Broward judiciary’s image has suffered in the public’s eyes due to the mistakes of a few. I hope that, if given the opportunity, I am able to work with the other members of our judiciary who share my goal of reminding our community and ourselves that our judges are public servants who are accountable to the community and who must set the ultimate example. If I am able to fulfill this goal and make even the slightest difference, then I would consider my term a success.

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

Cawthon: There are a variety of obstacles to justice encountered by individuals operating within our legal system on a daily basis. Oftentimes, especially in county court where I am running, parties proceed on a pro se basis because of the cost often associated with hiring legal counsel. Many of these pro se parties are unfamiliar with the proper procedures and rules associated with the courtroom, which can be an intimidating experience for some. As a county court judge, I intend to address this issue by remaining compassionate and understanding when it comes to parties such as these. While a judge’s role is not to give legal advice, it is to remain a servant to the public. I intend to remember the importance of compassion when dealing with those who may be unfamiliar or intimidated by the process.

Tanner Channing Demmery

Demmery was born and raised in Broward, earned his law degree from Nova Southeastern University, and is the only son of a local family who run an automobile repair and storage business. The trial attorney lives with his fiancee in Pompano Beach and serves the Broward Public Defender’s office in Downtown Fort Lauderdale.

Demmery has worked extensively on both sides of the aisle, first as a Broward County Assistant State Attorney in the sexual battery unit, then as bureau chief for the Middle Keys at the Monroe County State Attorney’s Office. His return to Broward saw him take the reins as an assistant public defender. Demmery is also well-versed in real estate transactions and spent time working in civil litigation handling a variety of real estate-related matters. Outside the courtroom, Demmery volunteers his time toward causes that include the preservation, conservation and cleanup of our coastal marine environment, animal rescue and education.

Why do you want to become a county court judge?

Demmery: I am running for Broward County Court judge because I want people of every background to know that they can come to court, have their voice heard and know that they will be treated fairly. I believe at the county court level, judges can still exercise a certain level of discretion to have a more far-reaching and positive impact on the lives of everyday people.

What about your experience qualifies you for the position?

Demmery: I have worked as a prosecutor, a civil litigator and now as a public defender. I spend every day of the week in a courtroom and have gained an invaluable experience having represented both victims and defendants, businesses and associations. Working across the aisle in criminal and civil litigation taught me how to become nimble in your approach and highly efficient to maximize the best outcome for a given situation.

It is this real-world, real courtroom experience that truly separates me from my opposition. There is a certain dynamic to being inside of a working courtroom that can’t be mastered in books. I have had tens of thousands of interactions whether with victims, law enforcement, opposing counsel, clients, defendants, courtroom personnel and dozens of judges, and have had to learn how to operate competently and efficiently while maintaining professional decorum with the very many different personalities that come in and out of my working life. I have worked in the trenches and believe I have a good understanding of how to treat people of every background with compassion, dignity and fairness. I believe if you want to run a courtroom, you need to have a strong understanding of how a courtroom operates. I do this every single day of the week.

What’s your biggest achievement so far?

Demmery: I was proud to be a bureau chief for the Middle Keys Office of the Monroe County State Attorney’s Office. I was honored to be given a level of autonomy and discretion that I had never experienced before, and it was a responsibility I took very seriously. I was able to gain an unprecedented level of involvement in the investigation, filing, work up and ultimate trial of many serious criminal matters. Conversely, I was also able to exercise the discretion to effectively do justice. Justice sometimes means letting a case go and not always winning just because you can. It was this job that taught me compassion and to learn to see the bigger picture. My current job as a public defender I believe is another high point for me to successfully switch from one side to the other and do my part to give a voice to the disenfranchised and often overlooked.

What would a successful term look like for you?

Demmery: I believe upholding the message that has inspired my campaign to preside over a courtroom where people of every background can have their voice heard and know that they will be treated fairly. I’d like to be able to reflect on a term knowing that I did my part in showing that our court system works for all people regardless of background and in so doing helped create more confidence by the public in the judiciary and court system overall. Additionally, I would hope that I can be part of creative options in the criminal arena to further alternative programming that will assist getting first-time offenders, those suffering from mental health issues and youthful offenders the specialized help they need to become productive members of society outside of the criminal courts. I would also like to embrace any and all ways to make the courts more efficient.

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

Demmery: I believe at the county court level that lack of services for unrepresented persons is an issue.

Leonore M. Greller

Greller was admitted to the the New York State Bar in January 1985 and passed the Florida Bar in 2010 at the age of 55. She’s an alternative dispute resolution professional, and her career has encompassed civil and commercial litigation, specializing in contract, insurance and family law. Greller is a Florida Supreme Court-certified county, circuit, civil and family mediator, special master and qualified arbitrator and parenting coordinator for Miami, Broward and Palm Beach Circuit Courts.

She volunteers at Nova Southeastern University as a moot court judge and is a guest speaker and mediation coach at various law schools, where she speaks about ethics and professionalism. She co-presented seminars on mediator ethical concerns at the Broward Bench and Bar Convention in 2013 and 2015, and was a North Broward Bar Association Officer between 2012 and 2015.

Why do you want to become a county court judge?

Greller: I want to be a county court judge because of the variety of cases that come before the county court. From neighbor disputes and credit card debt, to hurricane damage, domestic violence and auto accident cases in any given year, a county court judge is a walking encyclopedia of the law, continually learning and always occupied. In addition, as a county court judge I would not only be the arbiter of the entire judicial process — from initiation of the plaintiff’s complaint, to referring cases to mediators and arbitrators, and to settlement or final judgment — but I would also be a part of developing and implementing new court programs, such as the new pilot community court program, which will be implemented in Fort Lauderdale this fall.

What about your experience qualifies you for the position?

Greller: I’ve practiced civil and commercial litigation, worked family law and domestic violence, sexual child abuse cases as a plaintiff’s lawyer for more than 33 years, and I’m a Florida Supreme Court certified county, circuit civil and family mediator. I’m also a qualified arbitrator and serve the court as a special master.

As a mediator I help parties settle disputes, and those that cannot be settled through mediation are sent back to the referring judge for arbitration or trial. As an arbitrator, I am a fact finder, just like a judge during a bench trial or a sitting jury. I base my decisions on the facts or law at issue. As a special master, which is a quasi-judicial position, I report my legal findings to the referring judge and the parties. In every instance, I am court or privately-appointed. I have mediated and arbitrated hundreds of cases and, unlike either of my opponents, I have filed a Florida Bar Voluntary Self-Disclosure Statement. I understand what it means to be fair and impartial, and to listen to each person, making certain each maintains dignity, no matter the person’s viewpoint taken. I also have experience as a planner, community organizer, administrator, and the ability to embrace the ebb and flow of the law as our culture and society undergoes change.

What’s your biggest achievement so far?

Greller: My biggest achievement in Florida is the writing of more than 80 detailed arbitration decisions and knowing that they have helped lawyers hone their professional skills and helped parties understand the outcome. In fact, one of my arbitration decisions is due to be published in September in Florida Law Weekly. I am also very proud that a special master report written in 2016 has made its way to litigation suits and courtrooms in Tampa and Jacksonville.

What would a successful term look like for you?

Greller: The implementation of recommendations and programs I help develop. Helping people learn more about the court system through tours and public speaking. Regaining the public’s respect of the Broward County judiciary and helping to raise the small claims’ indigent status to all claims, not just those below $2,500.

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

Greller: Most people are unaware that Broward County Court judges have a caseload of 1,200 to 2,000 cases. With 20 business days in an average month and new cases being added each day, a judge must nevertheless be a fair and impartial arbiter, administrator and manager with one judicial assistant. This is a difficult task in and of itself. But it’s more difficult because the “People’s Court” is filled with self-represented parties that have little or no experience presenting or defending against a prima facie. Nevertheless, it is imperative for the judge to listen to the parties’ positions and to guide self-represented parties (and lawyers) to realistic expectations. This becomes more difficult as cultural differences or patience wears thin if language barriers create additional obstacles and impede the process. Translators are not readily available for budgetary reasons. This is only one of the many issues facing Broward County courts.

Related stories:

Stephen Leslie Lustig Challenges Judge Robert W. Lee For Broward County Court Bench

Richard Llerena, Sara Alijewitz and Jeremy Zubkoff Compete For Palm Beach County Court Judgeship

Judge David Miller and Elisabeth Espinosa Vie for Miami-Dade Bench 

Milena Abreu and Miguel “Mike” Mirabal Face Off in Race For Miami-Dade County Judge