BY BUDDY NEVINS
It was just an ill-advised quip, a single line inserted in an explanation of why the judge was not locking up a woman.
This phrase, uttered roughly three years ago, is coming back to haunt County Judge Ian Richards, who is running for re-election next year:
“This is not vagina justice.”
Here is the story, which swept through the courthouse after JAAblog published it*:
Presiding over a domestic dispute, Judge Richards refused to order a woman taken into custody for violating a no-contact order and for not appearing at the hearing. The alleged male victim “was upset, letting the judge know that he believed the order would be issued for a male defendant,” according to JAAblog.
Judge Richards then spelled out the reasons for his decision, dropping in the line, “This is not vagina justice.”
Woman in the courthouse were outraged.
Fast forward to today:
Lawyer Claudia Robinson remembers the comment.
Earlier this month, Robinson became the second lawyer to open a campaign against Richards. The first challenger was former Casey Anthony attorney Jonathan Kasen.
Says Robinson: “I became aware awhile back of a comment made by Judge Richards when he was the presiding judge in the Domestic Violence Court where he used the term ‘vagina justice’ in regards to a case before him. As a lawyer, a woman and most important a mother of a daughter, I take great issue with the use of this term by Judge Richards in any context.”
Broward County, Robinson says, deserves better. Broward County deserves judges who are “fair and respectful.”
Judge Richards did not return a call left with his assistant for comment.
A Solid Resume
But Claudia Robinson is not running a single issue campaign of revenge.
Robinson, 36, is a solid candidate with a good resume – 2006-2008 at the Public Defender’s Office, 2008-2012 as in-house counsel for the Police Benevolent Association and a year in private practice. She’s married to a Sunrise cop.
And she has lived the American success story.
Robinson moved here from Nicaragua in 1978 along with her mother. Estrada is her maiden name. They had $200 to their name.
The little family moved into a tiny studio apartment in Liberty City in Miami. Later, grandma joined them.
Robinson knew the path out was through education. She struggled, learning English.
Eventually, Robinson graduated from the University of Florida School of Law in only two and a half years.
With Robinson’s entrance, the race is now about something other than justice. In the world of politics, the race has becomes a morass of ethnic and gender-based politics.
Judge Richards is a Caribbean black who many believe hid his ethnicity from many white voters in the last election. No pictures in flyers mailed into most white communities. No extensive discussion of his background.
Ian Richards beat an incumbent judge who had a Spanish-sounding name. Political consultants assume that Ian Richards got votes from whites that thought they were voting for a white with an English pedigree.
This time around, Richards can’t hide from his heritage.
Meanwhile, Robinson is Hispanic. And her married name, Robinson, could be interpreted as black.
There are two Broward judges named Robinson who are black – Circuit Judge Michael Robinson and County Court Judge Mary Rudd Robinson.
So Clauda Robinson should do well with Hispanic voters. And she may cut into Judge Richards votes in the black community.
In addition Robinson’s votes in the inner city could be boosted by the antipathy between African Americans and Caribbean-born blacks like Richards.
Robinson is the only woman in the race now.
“In low information races where little is known about candidates, women have a tendency to vote for woman absent of other knowledge. Men, however, aren’t known to vote based on gender,” pollster and University of Florida professor Jim Kane says.
Kane called judicial races “the lowest information races there are, except maybe a soil and water district race.”
Help Me Howard!
The popular Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein, who has the “Help Me Howard” feature on Channel 7 news, has criticized judicial candidates who challenge minority judges in the past.
Finkelstein told Browardbeat.com that his inclination at this point is to sit this one out, noting a Hispanic Robinson is one of those running against the black Richards.
Finkelstein did offer some nice words about Robinson that can’t hurt: “She did a very nice job for us. She was always very upbeat and dedicated.”
This one is just getting started.
* JAAblog’s publisher Bill Gelin wrote at the time that he had a CD of the comment and offered copies to readers. He wrote it was a format he couldn’t use on his influential courthouse blog.