Retired Miami-Dade Judge Thomas Tam Wilson, passed away.
Retired Miami-Dade Judge Thomas Tam Wilson, passed away. ()

Retired Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Thomas “Tam” Wilson Jr., who presided over one of the most publicized voter fraud cases in the country when Mayor Xavier Saurez was challenged by Joseph Carollo—died at 71.

Wilson died Friday after a long illness, according to his 19-year judicial assistant, Patty Mendez. Wilson, who lived in Miami, did not want a funeral service and will be cremated, she said.

A native of Oregon, where his father was a federal judge, Wilson graduated from the University of Miami School of Law in 1971. After a brief stint as a law firm associate, he went to work for the Dade County public defender’s office for three years before returning to private practice.

Wilson switched to the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office for three years before becoming a general master and being appointed a circuit judge in 1990 by Gov. Bob Martinez. He retired from the bench in 2009.

Wilson was a favorite among lawyers. In his final Dade County Bar Association judicial poll, he ranked in the top five among 123 judges.

His biggest case by far was the Miami mayoral election fraud case challenging votes cast by dead people, ex-felons and other ineligible voters in 1998. In a 1999 interview with the Daily Business Review, he recalled sneaking out of the courthouse to get to his car to avoid a sea of television cameras and reporters.

“He did an amazing job in moving the case,” said Kendall Coffey, the Miami lawyer who represented Carollo. “He elevated the entire process from a political controversy to a very important legal case. All of his factual findings were affirmed.”

Wilson was liked for his courtroom demeanor, making sure to give people their full say and taking relatively few things under advisement, Coffey said.

Wilson rotated among the criminal, civil and family divisions.

“He was a great, great boss and treated everyone with dignity and respect,” Mendez said. “Even people who were losing their homes in foreclosures he was very compassionate to. Everyone admired him.”