Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jennifer Bailey’s first election might be called "The Charge of the Bride’s Brigade."
It was "the summer of Hurricane Andrew." And, as she put it mildly, "a busy year."
"I ran pregnant, had the baby between the primary and the runoff," she said.
That didn’t slow her down.
"On Election Day all of my bridesmaids were assigned election stations, and they were all standing and handing out Jennifer Bailey brochures to everybody as they went in," she said. "My bridesmaids, my sailing buddies, anybody I knew was assigned to a precinct and was handing out brochures."
The effort grew out of a comment at a cocktail party when "an outstanding old guard civil litigator" suggested she should run for judge. But it might never have happened if any of Bailey’s initial plans had worked out.
Now the chief administrative judge of the civil division, Bailey went to college to study fine arts.
"I wanted to be an illustrator. And I could also write. So the original vision was to write and illustrate my own books," she said. "Realizing that ultimately I was going to starve impelled me, because I could write, into journalism."
Bailey took a job as an 18-year-old intern at the Atlanta Journal and got to cover President Jimmy Carter.
"They had to figure out something to do with me, so they had me covering whatever he ate — like when he went to a restaurant and ate I would write a story about the restaurant and what he ate. But hey, at least I’m covering the president."
"It was the ’80s, and I was planning to continue on to get an M.B.A.," she said. Business schools, though, wanted her to wait two years and "get real-world experience."
Bailey figured if she had to wait, "I’ll just go to law school."
After she graduated, she went to work as corporate claims counsel for Victor Posner Cos.
"It gave me in-depth experience with the best defense attorneys all across the country and participate in their litigation strategy," she said. "After that, I decided I wanted to be a trial attorney."
She went to one of Miami’s venerable firms, Kimbrell & Hamann, where she "started off in car accidents and ended up doing products liability defense work." In 1990, she moved to Katz, Barron, Squitero & Faust, doing primarily commercial litigation.
Two years later came the fateful run-in at the cocktail party where the litigator said, "You would make a great judge."
"My first reaction was, ‘Oh no, I can’t do that,’ " Bailey said. "Then I thought, ‘Why not?’ "
What attracted her most was that "the judge ultimately is responsible for solving the problem. … That’s really what I’m good at — teasing things apart. I spend a lot of time reading. I spend a lot of time studying and preparing for whatever it is that’s coming up on my plate."
She likes motions in writing and, "I don’t put limits, but I do ask people to be as brief as appropriate given the amount of work we have."
Bailey is "very forthright with folks" about their submissions, she said. She reads everything in advance for specially set hearings; she only reads motion calendar items when they come up in court.
As administrative judge, she said, "I kind of deal with problems as they come up," which might include filling a sudden vacancy if a judge calls in sick or rushing in as backup if a judge gets overloaded.
Bailey also is the backup judge for complex business litigation with a docket of cases she has to handle.
She also has a docket of foreclosure cases and supervises the state-funded foreclosure backlog project.
"Some days it’s very serene," Bailey said. "And some days it’s just like the Whac-a-mole game at the county fair."
One of her biggest challenges involves dealing with the massive foreclosure case backlog brought on by the housing crisis and "the sense that the courts are trying to move this caseload forward despite the lawyers involved, not with the assistance of the lawyers involved."
The court’s strategy has evolved. In a pilot project the state funded in 2010, they tried case management.
"It was a complete waste of time. It was like moving the deck chairs around on the Titanic. No matter what we did, we couldn’t get the people to do what they needed to do to bring the case to conclusion. So now we just set them for trial," she said. "The bottom line in civil case management is: nothing brings a case into focus like a trial date."
Still, she said, "The abiding philosophy of the Eleventh Circuit has been, is now and will continue to be in regard to foreclosures: It’s more important to do it right than fast. … I know we’ve got a zillion cases, but we can’t get in such a hurry to resolve these cases that we compromise our judicial process. And it can’t compromise the integrity of the court system."