Despite Aleman, All Judges Should Be Appointed


Circuit Judge Cheryl Aleman is target Number One in next year’s judicial elections.

Courthouse insiders are searching for a candidate to challenge Aleman, who was appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush in 2001.

They are looking for a female with a Jewish-sounding name.

Cynical campaign advisers believe Jewish-sounding names help. That’s because in low turnout judicial races, Jews makes up a disproportionate number of voters.

The challenge couldn’t come at a worse time for Aleman. 

She is scheduled to be publicly reprimanded by the Florida Supremes on April 7 for “arrogant, discourteous and impatient conduct during a 2006 murder trial.

Aleman forced defense attorneys to file numerous hand-written motions with limited time, or face contempt.

She was wrong. She will probably get a tough election opponent because of her misconduct.

Aleman aside, the election system often takes out the good judges with the bad. 

Campaign challenges are often cynical exercises in power for power’s sake.   Does attorney Kevin Kulik, who boasted he had ten candidates for next year’s judicial elections, want to control the courthouse? 

Elections last year tossed out three good Hispanic judges. Cynical campaign consultants figured correctly that voters would reject the judges Hispanic-sounding names. 

I think elections are the worst way to pick a judge.

A fabulous book titled “A Most Disorderly Court by Martin A. Dyckman recounts why Florida’s appellate court is no longer elected.

In the 1970s, the appellate court system was riddled with corruption, cronyism and favoritism created by the election system. 

Three Supreme Court Justices faced impeachment.

Two justices allowed themselves to be lobbied about a case by a utility lawyer.  Another tried to fix lower court cases for campaign contributors.

The impeachments had strong Broward connections.

Then state Rep. Alan Becker (now Becker Poliakoff) was on the House Impeachment Committee.

One case involving Richard Nell, then head of Local 675 of the Operating Engineers Union in Fort Lauderdale, embroiled Justice David McCain.

There was testimony that McCain received $10,000 in $20 bills from Nell in his Supreme Court office.

Nell’s Broward lawyers — Joe Varon and Steadman Stahl Jr. were alleged to have given McCain unreported cash campaign contributions. 

McCain was one of two justices who quit before being impeached.  Another justice was reprimanded.

The fallout from the scandal ended the election of appellate court judges.

Trial court judges remained elected.

Florida’s judicial elections are particularly costly. 

Georgetown University Professor Roy A. Schotland, an expert on political campaigns, is quoted in Dyckman’s book. 

Schotland calculated that trial judge campaigns in Florida cost 41 percent as much as candidates for the legislature, compared with only 5 percent in California.  “One big reason: Florida has more judicial campaign consultants, he said.

No surprise. 

Out of his $149,000 campaign, candidate Robert Malove wrote checks for almost $70,000 to consultants before losing to Aleman five years ago.  Some of the money, no doubt, went for brochures and other ads, but still — $70,000!

And where does this money come from?

“The legal community is largely the only ones interested in judicial races and the only ones who contribute, says Ed Pozzuoli, managing partner of Tripp Scott.

So it is the very lawyers who appear before these judges who finance their campaigns.

I believe judges should all be appointed by an impartial Judicial Nominating Commission.  The JNC  should appointed by the Florida Bar.  The JNC is largely appointed by the governor today, which makes it too partisan. 

I believe all appointed judges should then face a merit retention election every few years. Merit retention lacks most objectionable aspects of contested campaigns, such as choosing a judge because of his name.  Voters would still have a chance to decide whether judges are doing a good job.

If voters reject a judge, another one would be appointed.  Thus, voters could still get rid of Aleman.

Merit retention works for the appellate court. It could work for the trial court.

Because consultants are out to win at any cost, there have been Broward judicial campaigns so shady that the winners have been reprimanded by the Supreme Court. 

That’s no way to pick a judge. We need a change, despite Aleman.

19 Responses to “Despite Aleman, All Judges Should Be Appointed”

  1. Correct says:

    Here’s how I would propose that it get done. Judges should be screened by a randomly selected panel of volunteer retired judges statewide. A lottery determines which three retired judges get selected to serve on any given panel, which is called into being eeverytime there is an appointment to be made. All applications for vacant positions must be submitted prior to the panel being selected by lottery. Judges on the panel can interview finalists and make inquires directly about them, including background checks. You provide the judges with demographics of the given county so they are aware of diversity issues. Appointments are then made on merit. The panel picks three top candidates for every vacancy. Then the Governor picks one from that list of three. A judge serves a 7 year term, and can apply for reappointment with the endorsement of their local bar association. No, this is not perfect. There is no perfect ways to establish judges. But it is tons better than electing them because people at large are too ignorant of what is required for a good judge to make that choice at the ballot box. This method is much better than what we have now and will result in a better and more diverse judiciary.

  2. In The Know says:

    How would your friend David Brown pay his bills without judicial candidates he can milk like docile cows?

  3. Richard J. Kaplan says:


    I disagree. People want to have a voice in who decides over them. Appointed judges also have problems, and there truly is no system that is perfect.

    The blended system we have works. Some start off appointed, some elected. Eventually all face the voters. There will always be someone who falls through the cracks and shouldn’t be serving. Leaving solely to appointed judges won’t solve that.

    Think about it, it could be worse. At least we have an independent judiciary (at least in name). Up north they run as Democrats and Republicans. I prefer our way.

  4. Correct's Logic In This says:

    Kaplan says people want to have a voice in who are their judges. I’m not sure that’s entirely accurate but I will concede not just that point, but also that the system will not change and most lower level judges will continue to be elected, while upper level state and federal judges will thankfully continue to be appointed. Those will be appointed by men and women who understand who is best qualified to be a judge. The average citizen is not empowered with that information, and our state’s silly rules don’t allow judges to run for office in a sufficiently satisfying way as to allow a citizen that ability assuming they had it to begin with. This is the problem. This is why we end up with inept judges. Because they win elections but are not the best choices for society. And therein lies the rub. Kaplan’s points are otherwise understandable but they don’t solve the problem — that on average Hernandez, or Ali, or Carpaggio may be the very best choices but because they don’t get to campaign properly in Florida, Levi and Smith and McCleod get elected even if they are two steps up from paralegals. That’s the problem. Look at it in this manner. Let’s say you have 100 judges to appoint or elect. Compare the current method that the Kaplan (who is a great guy by the way) supports, or the method that Correct has set forward. Of the 100 which do you think is more likely to produce the most competent, the most seasoned, the most able judges. It is on that basis that a decison should be made, and in terms of independence, that’s accomplished by appointment to a term and by no other means. The Feds figured that one out over 200 years ago.

  5. Legal Beagle says:

    The idea to appoint all judges stinks. The courts would be under the control of the Bar and the governor’s office, which would make them far from independent. We have some horrible judges elected. We have some horrible judges appointed. Like Richard Kaplan, I say the mixed system is the way to go.

  6. Help Me says:

    First it was Al Schreiber who controlled all the judges through elections. Now it is Howard Finkelstein. “Let ‘Em Loose” Finkelstein is out of step with the public. He wants every offender let out on the street before trial and every trial to tun on a technicality that can release dangerous criminals. I know he has a job to do. One of those jobs is not hand picking a judiciary that will be his lap dog. The JNC is isolated from Finkelstein and others who have the powr to make or break a candidates at the polls. The JNC doesn’t have to listen to the pony-tailed potentate who would place “let ’em loose” judges all over the courthouse. Appoint all judges!

  7. Correct's Last Stand says:

    Well, then we don’t have a problem with the judges. Let them run against one another every term, let the lawyers dig deep to fund their campaigns (how independent is that?)and stop complaining because there isn’t a problem at all. Or is there? And if so, how do you propose to fix it? I’ve put out a solution. If you think you have a better one, describe it.

  8. jt says:

    its ok to elect judges but if its a 2 person race it should not be decided in the primary , rather the general election. only if more than 2 are running and the winner gets over 50 percent should it be decided in the primary. this would allow more of the people to choose and not merely the few.

  9. Defense Bar says:

    Anyone who appears before the Broward County Circuit Court — lawyer or defendant or plaintiff — should applaud Kevin Kulik and company. Because of him, judges have a new attitude and are not as arbritary as in the past. I believe it is because they fear being opposed at election time if they run roughshod over the law and over the rights of defendants or litigants. Rulings are more reasoned. Thank you, Kevin.

  10. Ken says:

    Elections have produced good judges like Krathen and bad judges like Ellen Feld. Appointments have produced good judges like Julio Gonzalez and bad judges like Pedro Dijols. No one way has a monopoly. The mixed system we have is the best. Buddy, you have one good point. One robed as a judge, incumbents should only face merit retention elections. That would take the politics out of the judiciary once they are seated.

  11. Sam Fields says:

    Defense Bar hit it right on the head, Kevin Kulik deserves the credit for getting a more balanced approach from judges.

    I initially opposed Kevin but I was wrong. BK (before Kevin) too many judges refused to question police credibiltiy. There was no downside in blindly backing the cops even when the judge knew the cop was lying. That has changed.

    When there is money or power on the table it is always political. Check how many change party before they put their name into the JNC. The appointive process just keeps the politics out of the public eye.

    I would like to see judges run under party labels like they do in most states. That would tell voters a lot about the candidate.

  12. David Lee Webb says:

    Sure Sam. Party affiliation would tell a lot…a lot that the voters shouldn’t know.
    As a Democrat in Broward I can see how you would want party affiliation listed. If its a dirty business now can one imagine who the playing field would be if judge races became partisan? Oy vey!
    Its human nature I suppose, but nonetheless dissapointing that the condo commandos vote for other jews with little regard for qualifications.
    I agree that the JNC is way too political, but so are the elections.
    I am all for the suggestion that judges face merit retention after being appointed in an apolitical manner.

  13. Kevin who? says:

    Bober didn’t even mention Kulik at the robing he thanked his brother, brothers campaign manager and Schriffel for his win. Kevin vowed to get a challenger to take out Judge Stacy Ross and all of them said no thanks when they found out how prepared Ross was for the race and knew Kevin was qualified to run a real race.

  14. Revenge Is Wrong says:

    To go after Stacy Ross because Kevin Kulik is upset with her father, Judge Dale Ross, is wrong. That is arrogance. Stacy Ross is a fine jurist.

  15. Mr. Courthouse says:


    You have shown your true colors. You want judicial candidates to run as Democrats or Republicans. It would do nothing but politicize the judiciary. Your good friend Dale Ross is a Democrat. Is he anything like other Democrats? He is more like a Republican. Candidates in Broward would just switch parties before running to Democrat. Your litmus test for running in Broward would prove nothing for voters.

  16. with friends like this... says:


    Give it a rest. You were with Kevin and Brad from the start trying to find someone to run against Stacy Ross. Only when Heidi and Ed ran scared did you try to play “power broker” and set up a lunch with the Judge, Brad and Kevin. Come on Sam dont you remember running your mouth at the cafeteria saying how you could get her to the lunch and she would cowtow to the three of you when you would inform her you were giving her a pass? Remember telling everyone having coffee that morning to pop into the Downtowner at lunch time so Stacy would get nervous seeing everyone watching her have lunch with you guys. Sam, you remember telling Salantrie to stop by the table right? Remember telling Brad to play the bad cop, Kevin the good cop while you were the all powerful peace maker/power broker. Same, did you watch The Godfather when thinking up that plan? All to intimidate her and let her think you guys were doing her a favor by not running anyone against her so she would play ball for you guys.

  17. please... says:

    Sam a “power broker” what is this 1989?

  18. Richard J. Kaplan says:

    All I ask in a judge is a fair and competent decider of a case, applying the law and the facts as presented, and only as presented. Is that too much to ask for? Isn’t that what the people deserve to solve their disputes? An honest decision.

    Where does partisanship help giving a honest decision? All it tells me is that it is now open to a political decision.

  19. silent sam says:

    uh oh, you know something must be true when Sam doesnt even deny it or try to justify his actions. at least everyone knows sam has been in bed with brad collins and kulik all along. maybe you shouldnt run your big mouth around the cafeteria so much.