A blog by Miami Criminal Defense Lawyer Brian Tannebaum. Commenting on criminal law issues of local and national interest.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

And He Represents Drunk Drivers

Lloyd Golburgh is running for judge in Broward County, Florida.

Do I know him? Yes. I went to high school with him, we worked at the same job together, I've known him for 25 years, and consider him a friend. He's also a damn good lawyer.

So I'm biased.

But this post is about something more than my friendship with Lloyd and his candidacy.

It's about the fact that Lloyd represents those accused of DUI. The media refers to this as defending drunk drivers - because they are all drunk, apparently. Lloyd's niche practice is now not merely a job description, but an accusation.

Yesterday, journalist Buddy Nevins wrote a story on an endorsement Lloyd received. Apparently there may be an issue over whether this endorsement, from the head of a Democratic organization, and not the organization itself, is appropriate in a non-partisan race.

That's a story, no doubt. Buddy was even fair enough to state that "strictly speaking, Golburgh is not endorsed by a political organization."

But he's concerned about the spirit of the rule against partisan endorsements because Lloyd has touted the endorsement as coming from the head of this Democratic organization. Fair enough.

Buddy has other concerns though about Lloyd, and turns the story in another direction:

Zucker’s endorsement is an example of what’s wrong with the Democratic machine. Apparently it is enough that Golburgh is a Democrat, even if he is not the best candidate for Broward County.

He's not the best candidate? Why?

She endorsed a DUI attorney over war hero and much-more experienced incumbent Judge Edward Merrigan Jr.

Now I don't know Judge Merrigan. I've never heard a thing about him. I can't tell you anything great or terrible about him as a judge. I respect the fact he is a war hero and that Buddy thinks he is a "more experienced incumbent judge."

But why is it relevant that Lloyd is a "DUI lawyer?" What does that mean?

Buddy explains:

Merrigan won The Bronze Star in September 2004 for running of over 100 operations in Iraq. The citation singled out his “leadership and professionalism,” which are good qualities for a judge.

He is currently on active duty and may be deployed again.

Golburgh is, ah, a guy who defends drunk drivers.

But don’t ask me about the merits of the two candidates.

Why not Buddy? In fact, I will ask.

Are lawyers who represent those accused of DUI unqualified to run for judge? What about a lawyer who does traffic tickets? Is a lawyer who devoted her career to helping illegal immigrants gain citizenship exempt as well? What about a prosecutor that put an innocent guy in jail - didn't Broward have one of those?

When a criminal defense lawyer wants to be a judge, the opposition drools. The opposition may be someone who personally respects the role of the criminal defense lawyer, but when it comes to campaigning, the public is all too ready to vote down the candidate who "defends the bad guys." On the appointment side, long time public defenders are more likely to get appointments than long time private criminal defense lawyers, because Governors can hide behind the "public service" aspect of the criminal defense lawyer's career. When former prosecutors run for judge, you will only see that they were a former prosecutor, and are now in "private practice," even if that "private practice" is criminal defense.

Fortunately for Buddy, the rules of campaigning for judge govern the conduct of the candidates, and discipline has been doled out to candidates who have seen fit to attack their criminal defense lawyer opposition for, well, being a criminal defense lawyer.

Buddy can say whatever he wants, he's a journalist, and the First Amendment protects him. He can use the power of ink to tell people that someone who represents people accused of a certain crime - DUI, are not as qualified to run for judge. Forget that DUI is the most arrested crime in America and that there are those arrested for DUI, that are, well, not drunk. Yes Buddy, it happens.

Should we not have lawyers who represent DUI defendants, or should they just keep moving along when an election comes around?

Seems Buddy went down this road with Lloyd before, and Lloyd didn't back down:

Mr. Nevins,

I have never met you, either, but I was a journalism major in College. The first thing I learned there was to write facts, not fiction.

I have been a criminal defense lawyer for over sixteen years working for people charged by the government with crimes. My job was to make sure they received what our constitution and our bill of right promised them.

And I do it very well.

I am not a friend of drunk drivers.

Maybe Judge Merrigan deserves to stay on the bench - that will be for the voters to decide. But Lloyd, nor any other criminal defense lawyer, should be ridiculed for what type of law they practice. There's plenty of experienced lawyers in those areas we find less controversial, that have become crappy judges.

This type of politics, attacking lawyers for the type of law they practice, is not limited to the media - lawyers do it as well in support of their candidate.

None of this will stop, but it should.

Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense lawyer in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court, and the author of The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer.Share/Save/Bookmarkokdork.com rules Post to Twitter