Women were all over South Florida judicial ballots and went on to carry eight of nine runoff races, reflecting the year of the woman on the regional level.
Drilling down into the results, two African-American women — business litigator and white-collar criminal defense attorney Stefanie Camille Moon for circuit court and civil, criminal and family litigator Jackie Powell for county court — won seats in Broward County.
Women make up the largest voting bloc, and female candidates have capitalized on the gender difference in South Florida races lower on the ballot where voters are less familiar with those running.
Lara Bueso Bach, president of the Miami-Dade chapter of the Florida Association for Women Lawyers, said the organization ”consistently advocates for greater diversity on the bench, and while much work remains to be done, we are very encouraged by the results.”
Coral Gables attorney Hector Lombana, an active campaigner who considers himself “a judicial gatekeeper,” said women “start off I would say five points ahead of their male opponents. … It’s just something the election people talk about as being just a fact.”
Harold F. Pryor Jr., immediate past president of the T.J. Reddick Bar Association, was ecstatic about Tuesday’s results.
“I know both women personally,” he said of the Broward winners. “During my presidency when they announced their desire to run for judge, they had my support personally, and I know they had the support of many of the attorneys in the community.”
He said the 2016 election of Haitian-American Judge Florence Barner to a Broward County Court seat laid the framework for the 2018 races in a region known as a hotbed of ethnic politics.
“I think it’s about time our judiciary reflects our community,” said Pryor, general counsel at Fort Lauderdale-based telecommunications company Hotwire Communications. “It’s a trend, and it’s great. I’m happy. I think it’s about time, and we definitely need to see gains as far as gender.”
Four runoffs were women only, but five others pitted men against woman, and only one man turned up the victor — civil litigator Scott Kerner of Schuler, Halvorson, Weisser, Zoeller & Overbeck for a Palm Beach circuit seat. He defeated dependency and family law attorney Alcolya St. Juste, who is black.
Two other black candidates lost. Miami-Dade Assistant Public Defender Renee Gordon fell to Vivianne del Rio for a Miami-Dade circuit seat. The demographic dominance of Hispanics in Miami-Dade has benefited Hispanic judicial candidates, and especially women, for years. Prosecutor Maria Markhasin-Weekes defeated state Department of Juvenile Justice attorney H. James Curry, who is black, for a Broward circuit seat.
Palm Beach County voters rejected the only Asian candidate in the field, civil and criminal attorney Allegra Fung, who lost to Palm Beach Assistant Public Defender Ashley Zuckerman.
Unlike the August primary contests, none of the races was close. Powell had the toughest race to finish with 52 percent of the vote, and Moon breezed in with 66 percent of the vote.
In other races, scientist-turned-lawyer Maxine D. Cheesman enjoyed a comfortable victory over Marybel Reinoso Coleman to secure a place on the Palm Beach circuit bench.
General Magistrate Sarah Willis also landed a seat on the Palm Beach circuit bench by defeating former Palm Beach State Attorney Michael McAuliffe.
Corey Amanda Cawthon prevailed over Tanner Channing Demmery for a Broward County Court seat days after she won an injunction against what she claimed was an illegal political action committee, which endorsed Demmery.
Voluntary bar associations have been pushing for more women and minority contenders for judgeships by both appointment and election, but Gov. Rick Scott’s selection of judges has been largely white and male.
“We’re not going to ignore the nomination process. There are benefits to that. But, I mean, look at the numbers,” Pryor said. “You can go through the JNC [Judicial Nominating Commission] process and hope that you get picked or selected by a commission that’s hand-picked by the governor that may or may not choose you for whatever reason. … Or you can say, ‘You know what? I know the community, I live here, I work here, I’ll run.’ “
Bach, a Weil, Gotshal & Manges senior associate, finds a societal benefit to gender diversity on the bench.
“A judiciary that reflects the citizens it serves will increase public confidence in the courts by assuring citizens that they can seek justice without bias or partiality, whether implicit or explicit,” she said.
Lombana, who supported Gordon, was surprised by her loss since Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum carried Miami-Dade County.
But overall, “it’s good to see women winning. You know, as they used to say in that old Benson & Hedges commercial, you’ve come a long way, and we have because I remember judges calling women lawyers honey and all kinds of stuff and not giving them their due,” he said. “We have a bunch of crackerjack women judges down here — a bunch of them — and that’s just the way it is. We’ll get more.”