BY BUDDY NEVINS
In a stunning move, a Broward county court judge has announced plans to run against one of his colleagues on the circuit court bench.
Lee Seidman called off his re-election campaign to the county court today, saying in a letter he planned to run against Circuit Judge Susan Lebow.
Seidman gave a letter to the Broward Supervisors of Elections Office which stated his intention of running against Lebow. He was reported flying today to Tallahassee to formally file.
But Seidman is so capricious that he could change his mind when he reaches the state Elections Division office. His decision won’t be final until Friday at noon, when filing closes.
Regardless, this is the first time in my memory an incumbent county court judge announced plans to run against a circuit court incumbent.
The move was widely expected since Seidman has been telling folks for months he was planning to run against “Let ‘Em Go Lebow,” using the disbaraging nickname
The nickname comes from Lebow’s reputation as a judge who defends the rights of the accused. She is a favorite of defense lawyers.
If Seidman goes through with his challenge of Lebow, it is sure to erode his backing among the Broward Bar. Lebow has been in office more than two decades and enjoys a great deal of support.
The treasurer of his re-election campaign was at one time Kevin Kulik, who has a great deal of influence among his fellow criminal defense attorneys. It is Kulik who marshalled many of the challenges against incumbent judges…but not Lebow.
“I am no longer his (Seidman’s) treasurer,” Kulik said. “I support Judge Lebow.”
Kulik predicted that a lot attorneys who supported Seidman’s re-election would withdraw their backing.
“Lots of his support came from criminal defense attorneys. They like Judge Lebow,” Kulik said.
Some big civil firms like Ruden McClosky also are expected to pull their backing of Seidman.
Some courthouse types speculate that Seidman is courting the defense attorneys by protecting Lebow.
This speculation contends that Seidman is saying that he will run against Lebow to keep other formidable candidates from filing against her. The theory is that at the last minute, Seidman will switch races.
Such a switcheroo would allow Seidman to keep his defense attorney support.
I know Seidman plays very close to the vest. He is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma, to steal a phrase from Winston Churchill. But this would be very Machiavellian…even for Seidman!
Lebow is one of the courthouse’s most controversial judges. She earned her disbaraging nickname “Let ‘Em Go Lebow” because she has dismissed cases against several high profile defendants, citing either prosecutoral misconduct or a lack of evidence.
“Everybody complains about her being defense-oriented judge. If they were a defendant, wouldn’t they want a judge who looked out for their rights and forced the prosecution to prove the charges? That’s what Lebow believes in,” said one defense attorney, who is friendly to both judges.
What is lost in the media roar over a handful of cases is that Lebow has sentenced many deserving criminals to death or long prison terms.
Here is one of dozens of stories from the Sun-Sentinel:
“Denise O’Neill had just put her key in the lock of her front door when she was grabbed from behind, blindfolded with a towel and dragged into her neighbor’s apartment, where she was beaten, held captive for hours and eventually strangled.
On Thursday, Broward Circuit Judge Susan Lebow sentenced Luis “Chris” Caballero to death for the July 1995 murder in West Palm Beach.
Lebow followed an 8-4 recommendation by jurors last March that Caballero, now 27, should die for the crime.”
Lebow has several political factors working in her favor.
She is a Jewish female running in an August primary where older Jewish women will be a big bloc of voters.
Lebow has experience running in an election, having first won a seat on the bench in 1985. She was appointed to the circuit court in 1992 by Gov. Lawton Chiles.
Also in her favor: She is a Democrat in heavily Democratic Broward, while Seidman was appointed by a Republican governor.
Lebow’s family is part of South Florida’s history. Her father Irving “Doc” Lebow was a car dealer who dominated TV screens from the 1950′s to the 1970s. He was called “Doc” because he would say he only sold healthy used cars.
He founded the first Toyota dealership in Broward along Oakland Park Boulevard.
Seidman is known as loner in the courthouse who allegedly packs guns in court. He will run his campaign as a law-and-order candidate against the more defense-oriented Lebow.
Seidman’s dramatic shift Wednesday leaves three candidates running for his county court seat — Mardi Anne Levey Cohen, Nate Klitsberg and Frantz “Jahra” McLawrence.
One other candidate — Jill Tamkin Rafilovich — is already running against Lebow.