BY BUDDY NEVINS
Where is all the hand wringing from legal community this time around when incumbent judges are being challenged?
Two years ago, 15 judges were challenged.
This time it’s only three – County Judges Terri-Ann Miller and Bob Diaz and Circuit Judge Dale Ross. The support from the legal community for these three is there, but it’s much quieter.
There is no public outcry. No Public Defender Howard Finkelstein, TV’s “Help Me Howard”, defending them at political clubs. No political action committees planning ads…for now.
One reason is the number of judges that faced opposition last time. A second is the continued bad economy.
“It’s been hard to raise money in a judicial race,” said one political consultant.
A third reason is that the challenges in 2010 were spectacularly unsuccessful. The incumbents got re-elected.
A fourth reason is the judges themselves.
Miller is a former Miami-Dade judge who moved to Broward in 2000 when she faced re-election defeat. She feared that the politically active Cuban community would remember the maximum fines she imposed on anti-Castro demonstrators blocking traffic.
She first challenged County Judge Bob Zack, but got thrown off the ballot because of residency problems. In 2002, she challenged County Judge Steve DeLuca and lost. In 2006, she ran for an open seat and won.
Miller is now paying for running against sitting judges twice. She has lukewarm support among some in the local legal community.
“A lot of us feel that she is just getting some of her own medicine,” one lawyer said.
Ross was appointed judge in the 1970s and was chief judge for more than a decade.
Being chief judge he earned enemies, particularly among the most vocal members of the criminal defense Bar.
One of his biggest enemies is said to be Finkelstein, although I see no evidence of him being actively involved in the race. Another is Bill Gelin, a criminal defense attorney who runs the courthouse website JAAblog.
Ross’ opponent is criminal defense lawyer Mickey Rocque, who by experience alone should be no push over. He knows his way around a courtroom. His resume includes being well-respected assistant public defender for 16 years before opening his own criminal defense practice.
However, Rocque can’t match Ross in experience. Ross was on the bench for a decade when Rocque graduated law school in the late 1980s.
And Ross has a lot of powerful friends outside the courthouse and a crackerjack campaign team. He is also campaigning hard, while I hear Rocque is seldom seen.
Bob Diaz must feel like Marty McFly in “Back To The Future”.
The former assistant public defender was appointed in 1992 by Gov. Lawton Chiles. Just months later, Diaz fought off a tough election challenge.
Twenty years later, Diaz running again.
A lot is the same. He makes the same campaign stops – chamber of commerce breakfasts, judicial forums at political clubs and community groups. He courts many of the same power brokers.
A lot has changed.
“The cost of everything has gone up,” Diaz said.
In 1992, his campaign could afford network television ads. This year, TV is a maybe.
There were no widespread use of cell phones and calls on the road had to be made from pay phones. He recalls the travel around Broward was easier, with less traffic.
Diaz won in 1992 with 271,832 votes. He got 62 percent against David Javits, despite the talk that he was related to former U. S. Senator Jacob Javits of New York. It was a vote total for a judicial candidate that wasn’t surpassed for 16 years, Diaz said.
Judging from reading JAAblog, Gelin doesn’t like Diaz any more than he likes Ross. (If I’m wrong, Gelin is welcome anytime to comment here at or to write why he thinks Diaz should be replaced.)
Other than a small part of the defense Bar, I don’t see much widespread opposition to the judge.
When he ran in 1992 and won in a landslide, Diaz disproved the Broward political wisdom that a Hispanic can’t win countywide, especially against an opponent with a Jewish-sounding name. He is hoping to prove it again this year.
Bob Diaz, law school students, former students and friends stuff envelopes in the current campaign