Money, Experience And Endorsements Count Little When Running For Judge

 

BY BUDDY NEVINS

 

Broward Circuit Judge Michael Usan should have won reelection easily.

He has almost 10 years experience on the bench. He had the support of almost every political and legal leader, plus six unions.

Usan spent almost eight times more than his opponent.

 

Michael Usan

 

Yet he squeaked through with a 373 vote win —  50.04 percent of the 227,711 ballots voted in the race.

That’s not a rousing endorsement for a professionally managed campaign. 

Browardbeat.com is not criticizing consultants Barbara Miller and Amy Rose, who handled Usan. They did everything by the book. 

Usan’s campaign is proof that no consultants has a surefire winning formula for judicial campaigns.

After all, he almost lost.  To an unknown political non-entity, Richard Brian Kaplan, who had far less experience and almost no prominent endorsements.

Maybe Usan almost lost because he was below Kaplan on the ballot. Some political experts claim a candidate’s position on the ballot swings votes. 

Maybe Usan almost lost because of his much trumpeted endorsement by three police unions. Police are not a selling point in some parts of the black and progressive community. Blacks comprise roughly half of Broward’s registered Democrats. 

Maybe Usan almost lost because his name is vaguely foreign-sounding. Possibly even Islamic. 

(Usan is actually of Russian-Jewish heritage as he mentioned in his ads. He even included a picture of himself in religious garb. He was obviously worried about Kaplan, who has an easily identifiable Jewish name.)

The point is, no one knows how to win judicial races.

The best story I ever heard about voter motivation in a judicial race comes from 2000. Browardbeat.com contributor Sam Fields and Marcia Beach were running for judge. Fields lost.

A political friend was in a bar after the results were announced. He started talking to two women sipping drinks. 

“Did you vote?” he asked the women. 

“Oh, yes.”

“Do you remember the race between Sam Fields and Marcia Beach?”

“Yes, I voted in it.”

“Who did you vote for?”

“Beach.”

“Why?”

“Because Beaches are nicer than Fields,” the two voters agreed. 

How could you predict that one?

Anyone even thinking of running for judge should read this:

“A candidate for judge could essentially stay at home and do as well as someone who campaigns and advertises a lot. People like me make no difference.”

That comment comes from a very candid campaign consultant. 

I agree. 

The vast majority of voters don’t care about judicial races. They pay no attention to them. They throw those expensive flyers in the trash without reading them. Money is absolutely no guarantee of victory.  Endorsements count little and may even backfire. 

Most voters choose judicial candidates based on a name. Or the position on the ballot. Or the gender of the candidate. Or the ethnicity of a candidate.

Or some other unfathomable reason buried in their minds. Some unfathomable reason that will never figure in a consultant’s plans.

 

The Other Winner 

 

Usan was the winner. 

If there was a second winner in the race it was criminal defense attorney Brian Silber. 

An up-and-comer in local judicial politics, Silber is popping up everywhere.  

On a stormy Labor Day, he took charge of the Usan recount volunteers at the rain-battered Elections Office.

 

Brian Silber speaks to Usan volunteers at the Broward Elections Office on Labor Day. Former Property Appraiser Lori Parrish, with the blonde hair and cowgirl shirt, has her back to the camera in the foreground. 

 

A relentless self-promoter, cynics complained that Silber only showed up when the TV cameras showed up. 

But politics is filled with backbiters. 

Critics aside, Silber’s support counts. With over 2,600 Facebook “friends” including much of the courthouse royalty, his comments reach a lot of potential contributors and average voters. That matters, especially in this race that was won by 373 votes. 

Watch for Silber’s influence to grow in judicial races. 

 



10 Responses to “Money, Experience And Endorsements Count Little When Running For Judge”

  1. Stormwatch says:

    Buddy, do you think maybe Diaz and Lee cruising to victory and Usan barely squeaking by might have had something to do with a large turnout among African American Voters and Usan’s involvement in the Perraza case and his habit of overly harsh sentences on VOP’s. That and the fact that a lot of lawyers don’t appreciate his tardiness and overall demeanor.

  2. Sober as a Judge says:

    It is a travesty that we elect judges in so laughable a way.

    Florida’s bar rules are so strict that judges cannot run meaningful campaigns as they do in other states. Voters are left no choice but to guess, on the basis of a candidate’s last name, who they should vote for. They might actually make better selections by asking the judge what their favorite color was.

    It’s just ridiculous and everybody knows it. There is much less risk appointing judges using a merit system in which retired judges are selected at random to make the decisions. That has got to be a much better than that way than what we have. Most any alternative would be better.

    Every year, we risk electing a clown car of judges based totally and arbitrarily on their last names. A total moron could easily win over a judicial genius depending on the sound of their last name, which has happened more than once. Not to mention all the glad handing candidates are forced to do with the lawyers who fund those judge campaigns and then appear before them to try cases. The stench of that alone is horrific.

    Florida’s judge selection process is ripe for reforms designed to better ensure we get the most talented people possible on the bench.

  3. Dont give Miller/Rose a pass says:

    Why lay off Rose and Miller?

    Look at their record in judicial races, their guy Dan Casey almost lost to another nobody, Karen Berger, who had even less money than Kaplan. Casey has to spend $300,000 to Berger’s $10,000 to win by a few thousand votes.

    Then Kirstin Padowitz, her campaign was run by Rose/Miller and spent over $200000 and lost. When a consultant has this many close races when the candidates are spending 10x or more than their opposition, the consultant cant be free of blame.

    Everyone can understand Amy Rose not being at the top of her game because she had to spend her time dealing with Isreal’s problems since February. Miller, ask her candidates, she spent over half of the last 8 months in Tuscany.

    The only winners in a Miller?rose campaign is Mike Kaplan and his expensive mailpieces. Which I am sure Miller nor Rose are getting any piece of (wink).

    Credit has to be given to Judy Stern for her comeback after being left for dead after Bruce Roberts and running a skillful campaign with Shari Affrick-Olefson, who ran a clean, above board campaign. Give Judy credit, at least she stays in town for her clients and isn’t easily distracted.

  4. Legal Beagle says:

    Silber and Usan are alike. Both look in the mirror and see legal geniuses.

  5. Floridan says:

    I know of no person who does not frequent the courthouse on a regular basis who has a substantive basis for their vote in judicial races.

    Better that we have appointed judges with a vetting process. Either that or draw names out of a hat.

  6. name game says:

    Your premise is flawed, and your explanation is not really accurate, Buddy. There’s no formula, that’s true. But the name game alone does not work. There are many examples of that.

    On the other hand, Money can buy an election. Not always….. but most of the time. There are many examples of that throughout the years. Africk was an absolute nobody in the Broward legal community. Started running in May after her opponent way before that. She wins. Spent almost $600,000, top of the ballot… blah blah blah. There’s no formula. And every year is different.

  7. Better then you says:

    Is this you again “awomanscorned1976@gmail.com”? I mean who else thinks Barbara was in Tuscany when everyone knows she was in Florence?

    Padowitz was massively outspent. Olefson denied Judy was even involved until the very end when there was nothing anyone could do about it.

    What about Judge Kollra? I mean he nearly lost to Alan Schneider who previously lost to Elijah Williams. Or how about 5-time loser Rhoda? Her consultant did a helluva job too huh?

    If you’re looking for Mike Kaplan and his mail pieces check out Susan Alspector too. And Davis. And Lee. And scores of others. And yet they didn’t all arrive on the very same day like say, some other consultants and their new jersey based mail vendor.

  8. Did Padowitz get two timed by her team? says:

    If you look at campaign finance reports of races involving Barbra Miller, many times you will find expenditures to companies involved with Amy Rose, Alan Jean and Michael Kaplan. While there is no proof any of these people took money from both sides in this race, take a look at the info below and draw your own opinion.

    1) Olefson family members puts $60,000 into an ECO called Citizens for a Better Judiciary

    http://dos.elections.myflorida.com/committees/ComDetail.asp?account=73641

    Between July 7 and July 21 Citizens transfers $59,500 to another ECO called Greater Florida Leadership

    http://dos.elections.myflorida.com/committees/ComDetail.asp?account=60857

    Between July7 and July 21 Greater Fla transfers in excess of $59,500 to an ECO called Voter Interest

    http://dos.elections.myflorida.com/committees/ComDetail.asp?account=54614

    Between 7/7/18 and August 2, 2018 Voter interest expends over $59,500 to Victory Political Mail (Michael Kaplan) and a Deleward corporation SKDJ Solutions

    Read this article that appears to link SKDJ, Amy Rose and Alan Jean. Cant confirm but I wouldnt be surprised if Kaplan did the mail piece used in this instance.

    http://www.politicalcortadito.com/2014/08/10/judicial-attack-delaware-broward-pac/

    Go to this page, https://www.theaugustcompanyllc.com/ and scroll to the very bottom. In the lower right hand corner you will see the page is copyrighted to SKDJ Solutions. August is Alan Jean’s company

    Other interesting questions, how much did Africk and/or Olefson contribute to Barbra Miller candidates prior to 2018? Will they still give to Miller candidates whether Padowitz won or lost?

  9. Michael Ahearn, Esq says:

    I commend, Ms. Rose, Miller and Stern/Golden/Johnson for running solid races for their candidates.

    Judge Affrick-Olefson is a once every decade or two candidate who spent what she needed to spend to win. Many candidates have had a lot of money and lost. I have heard that combination of Melanie Golden, Judy Stern and Eric Johnson were involved in the race and good job to them. I commend Candidate Padowitz, Amy Rose and Miller for fighting a good fight against tough odds. Lesser people would have not dug in, spent the money and fought on.

    I commend Judge Usan and his team for running a great race in a tough climate. I can’t deny that Judge Usan and my client Judge Kollra had very close races. It is unfortunate that these two Judges were subject to a misinformation campaign used to drive turnout in certain communities and it almost cost Broward two great Judges.

    I won’t deny the fact that Ms. Alspector dropped well over $100,000 the last month of the campaign on Mr. Kaplan for mail. Mr. Kaplan doesn’t need me to discuss his success, his record is well known. In the end, we were outspent almost 2 to 1 and did not have top of the ballot. Ms. Shotwell, like Judge Usan and Judge Kollra were subject to a misinformation campaign in certain communities , Ms. Shotwell only lost by a few thousand votes. I always own my loses as publicly as my wins.

    In regards to my mail pieces dropping the same day, remember of those 4, 1 lost, 1 won outright, 1 almost pulled 50% in a 3 way race and the fourth is going to be top of the ballot in November. Also add in my 5th client who didn’t do mail and came in first in her race and will be top of the ballot in November. Not perfect but I will take 4 out of 5 any day of the week.

    Finally, congratulations to those who ran, win or lose. Being a candidate is not for the fait at heart and takes great courage.

  10. Nah says:

    That sounded a lot like an advertisement for Mr. Ahearn’s services, didn’t it???

    Nonetheless, there’s no formula.

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