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

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Right To Remain: Judge Version

Florida's state court trial judges are elected every 6 years. In most rural and smaller areas, there are no contested elections. You don't run against a sitting judge. Period. In South Florida, mainly Miami for a long time, things are different. Judicial races are crowded with ethnic politics (a term that gets me in trouble) where the hypothetical Judge Joe Smith, a long-time respected jurist, can be defeated by the hypothetical Marisol Gonzalez, a 5 year lawyer with little experience. Contested elections have been creeping up the coastline over the past few years, and now include the opposite result in Broward County (Ft. Lauderdale), where the large Jewish population can saunter in the hypothetical Rachel Goldman to defeat the well-liked hypothetical Juan Gomez.

And so we had our elections yesterday.

Some judges, not liked by lawyers, mainly criminal defense lawyers, were soundly defeated. One was defeated by a no name no experience candidate.

The pundits can dissect the election and tell me why this happened, but I'll go through my day today thinking that both judges were defeated because they violated Rule #1 (my rule #1, not necessarily anyone else's rule #1): Be nice. (That's a cleaned up version of the real rule, by the way.)

The judges that lost were rude, short, and showed little respect for the lawyers before them. I saw this first hand, and then heard of it on almost a daily basis. While the public may think this is a good thing, because of course all us lawyers deserve a beat down from judges on a daily basis because we all suck, and, well, you know.... yesterday's election made the point that the public giveth, and the public taketh away.

Again, people will say that this election had nothing to do with whether lawyers liked the judges, but it is lawyers who contribute, and lawyers who are asked by the public to recommend candidates for whom they should vote. Lawyers play a huge role in judicial elections, because most other people have no idea what these judges are like on a day to day basis. They don't even know their names.

I don't know if these judges are thinking today, "maybe I could have been a little nicer to the lawyers in my courtroom, a little less quick to embarrass them, a little less quick to build my reputation as a judge who 'keeps lawyers in line.'" Actually, I don't think they are. I think they are being told and convincing themselves it was a "turnout" issue, or an issue with "who" voted.

I am always happy it appears the system worked. And it does. Just sometimes.

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


  1. Lee Stonum4:07 PM

    Are the elections partisan?

    Like the other parts of Florida, nobody challendges sitting judges in Orange County because, by definition, if you're sitting, the Republican party machinery is behind you and they turn any low-profile election here easily.

  2. Lee Stonum4:19 PM

    I should have clarified there that I was referring to Orange County, California. You guys have one of those in FL too, I think.

  3. Lee - no, they're non-partisan in Florida, even in Republican Orange County. I know other states have partisan judicial races, which I think is terrible. I'm actually more fond of the appointment process.

  4. Lee Stonum4:45 PM

    What's odd is the the races themselves are not partisan, but when appointments are made, party affiliation is always noted.

    Appointments have drawbacks too, but all in all, I agree.

  5. Anonymous2:09 AM

    I think having elected judges at all is a terrible idea. I expect my politicians to listen to public opinion and to make decisions based on political calculations. That is the natural and essential political process. That is NOT what a criminal or civil court proceeding should look like.

    A judge should rule based on the law and the facts of the case. If they have elections looming they might ignore the law and decide a case based on political factors that have no place in a courtroom.