Alan S. Fine (J. Albert Diaz)
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Alan S. Fine remembers watching “Perry Mason” as a kid and being “transfixed by what appeared to be his supernatural abilities.”
“I watched that show, and I thought that would be a great way to live,” he said.
He had an uncle who was a superior court judge in New Jersey. And, as he was growing up, he said, “I was encouraged to aspire to be a lawyer by my parents.”
Still, the Broward County native had other plans.
“When I was 12, I knew I was going to be a running back in the NFL,” he said.
Until he got sidelined by a knee injury. He turned to swimming, became a high school All-American and was good enough to be recruited by both Harvard and Princeton. He chose Princeton.
“I liked the swimming coach at Princeton better,” he said.
By then, too, he had gone back to his other career inclination of becoming a lawyer, although he credits his parents and a Constitutional Interpretation class—not the TV lawyer—for nudging him in that direction.
After graduation he spent a year in Washington, working for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission before heading to law school at the University of Florida.
Right after law school he clerked for U.S. District Judge Sidney Aronowitz for a year. It made a lasting impression.
“My clerkship with him,” he said, “was what put the idea in my head that never left—to be a judge.”
He wound up practicing something very different from what Perry Mason did, though, despite two mentors who “both advised me that I should to go into criminal law,” specifically as either a prosecutor or public defender.
He went, instead, to a private firm, joining Richman Greer as an associate, doing commercial litigation. Three years later, he was recruited away to build up the international banking litigation practice at Richey & Munroe.
He remained in commercial litigation for almost 30 years, most of it in international business and banking litigation, where he developed a specialty in civil forfeiture. It involved fighting the seizure of bank accounts, and helping individuals and businesses try to recover money the government contended was “tainted,” even if his clients had no connection to the alleged criminal activity that caused it.
He learned Spanish and French as a result of the law.
In 1993, he went on his own. “I was itching to run my own business,” he said.
He also indulged another passion along the way, as an amateur racecar driver, competing in weekend events in a performance Porsche and, later, Spec Miata.
But the desire born as Judge Aronowitz’s clerk never went away. He tried for an appointment in 2009, but didn’t get it. In 2012, Gov. Rick Scott appointed him to fill the seat vacated when Judge Ellen Leesfield stepped down.
He got a surprise at his investiture, and two gavels.
One gavel had belonged to his uncle in New Jersey.
But the real surprise came when a cousin by marriage, Senior U.S. District Judge Alan Gold, spoke. He said his investiture was in the same courtroom 21 years earlier. Gold said Fine’s father had given him a special decorative gavel and said it had come from the same uncle in New Jersey, with instructions to give it to whomever in the family became a judge. And, Gold explained, he had been asked to keep it in the family.
“And he pulled it out of his robe,” Fine said, “and said, ‘And I’m doing that by giving it to you.’ ”
Fine was assigned to the juvenile dependency division.
“Nothing in my legal career prepared me to be a dependency judge,” he said, but raising three kids, he added, did. “That is the preparation for being on the dependency bench—the maturity of a parent whose kids have already been through those years.”
His courtroom style, he said, varies with the circumstances.
“The more serious the matter, the more formal the courtroom needs to be. … If there are no parents there, it tends to be informal.”
The nature of the cases frequently demands a more casual atmosphere, he said, to defuse the emotional tension.
“The matters we deal with are so heart-wrenching that we need a break from time to time,” he said.
However, he said, that doesn’t mean he wastes time.
“I’m pretty much a bottom-line person,” he said. “I want to get to the issue and try to figure out what I need to know to make a decision.”
The position, he said, has proven to be more than he expected, in more ways than one.
“It’s been more of a challenge. It’s been more fulfilling. I am totally engaged,” he said. And seeing the problems other families face, he added, has made him closer to his own. “My reaction to it, surprisingly, has been to appreciate my family more.”