Race, Age Overshadowing Campaign To Replace Public Defender Howard Finkelstein




There is an undercurrent of race and age lapping over the campaign for a new Broward County Public Defender.

The candidates, five Democrats at this point, are largely in sync on the issues. 

When candidates mostly agree, age and race becomes more important. And it is retiring Public Defender Howard Finkelstein who is raising it.

Finkelstein promises to keep mentioning race and age through the campaign.

Race and age is thought to be especially important in Broward, where African Americans now comprise about half of the registered Democrats. Blacks in recent years have captured such leading offices as Broward Clerk of the Courts from the older generation of whites. 

Race and age of a candidate is more important when running for Public Defender, according to Finkelstein. 


Howard Finkelstein



He points out that the PD office represents the poor charged with a crime. Many of the accused are from minority communities and are young. 

So Finkelstein says it’s time to put somebody in charge who is closer to the age of the clients and the PD’s lawyers. Someone who understands minorities better because they are a minority. 

Finkelstein is retiring in 2020 after four terms. He describes himself as an “old white guy” at 65. 

“It’s a new Broward, a new generation that is different from me. We need somebody younger. Most of the lawyers in this office are younger than my children,” said Finkelstein, who has daughters 31 and 29 years old. 

“…(And) the majority of our clients are people of color,” Finkelstein continued. “.…They would be served greatly if a person of color won, a person who clients can identify with.” 

Two blacks candidates and three white candidates are running. 

Finkelstein is backing one of the blacks, his top aide Gordon Weekes.




Gordon Weekes


Weekes is not a young, wet-behind-the-ears, newbie. 

He’s 48. That is still years younger than Finkelstein, who was leaving high school when Weekes was born. 

Concerning race and age of the candidates being an issue, Weekes has an answer.

On age, he believes the next generation of leaders like him are more likely to have new ideas: 

“Age is a matter of perspective. (The next generation) has fresh eyes. They may see it differently.”

On race, Weekes says: 

“I remember walking into a courtroom for the first time as an intern and being shocked by something they didn’t teach me in law school. I remember seeing the majority of the handcuffed looked like me and the majority of the judges, lawyers and bailiffs didn’t. 

“This disproportionality, especially when there is perceived disparate outcomes for the indigent in the courts, will eventually erode trust in the the entire criminal justice system. It is not good for all of us.” 

But Weekes emphasizes although race may be an issue for some voters, he isn’t running on it. 

“I’m standing on my record,” he says. 

His record as Finkelstein’s assistant includes tackling “head-on abusive practices in juvenile jails.” As the result, the state cut ties with a private for-profit company running the facilities. 

But Weekes’ record also includes helping run an office that is plagued with poor morale stoking huge employee turnovers. Finkelstein and Weeks say the Broward office’s turnover problems are mirrored in PD offices across the state because of the low pay.

Weekes’ answer: 

He would expand recruitment to law schools across the state. He would increase training in an attempt to retain qualified lawyers. He would be an active spokesman for state funding in Tallahassee. 

Tom Lynch, a former Broward circuit judge and Weekes most formidable opponent, also suggests a way to decrease the turnover. If he wins, the PD Office would emphasize “mentoring” younger lawyers, continuing their education as part of the job and thus giving them a reason to stay. If they are learning every day, the young lawyers would see value in staying the at the PDs Office and they would provide better representation to the poor, he says. 



Tom Lynch 


Race will not be an issue used by his campaign, promises Lynch, who is 68 and white. 

He will run on his record and experience.  

Lynch worked four years as a chief assistant in the Public Defenders Office before winning an upset election for county court judge in 1984. He became a circuit court judge in 1995.  

Lynch retired from the bench in 2016 after wall full of awards and accolades from attorneys for fairness. In addition to his lengthy criminal justice resume, Lynch is a lifelong resident of Broward.  He is perhaps best known as “the surfing judge” for his dedication to the water sport.

He currently is a mediator and he says he will be taking a pay cut if he becomes the Public Defender.

The current pay for the Public Defender is roughly $160,000 annually. Finkelstein also earns nearly $40,000-a-year as the host of his “Help Me Howard” television feature on WSVN-Channel 7.  

In addition to Lynch and Weekes seeking to replace Finkelstein, there are three other candidates:

  • Sean Conway , a criminal defense attorney for over two decades who announced for office emphasizing his Irish heritage. He raises an interesting idea to help retain lawyers.“I would explore the idea of all attorneys being permitted to do limited, outside legal work (non-criminal), with certain policies in place,” he told JAABlog, the courthouse blog. 
  • Ruby Green, 31, an assistant public defender with ties to the African-American church communities. She will benefit from her gender if she remains the only female in the race.
  • Jim Lewis, in his early 60s and making at least his second run for Public Defender. He also has run for Florida Attorney General, state attorney, Fort Lauderdale mayor, Fort Lauderdale commissioner, circuit judge and state representative over the past decades. Hearing Finkelstein’s comments about needing a new generation of leader, Lewis sent him a baseball cap with the words “another old white guy” emblazoned on it. 

August 2020 primary yoters will have little knowledge about the candidates when they cast ballots. The presidential primary will suck up all the attention. So the names and race of the PD candidates will have great influence in determining who will win — the classic low information race. 

Not knowing or caring about the Public Defender’s race is sad. Perhaps no one else on the ballot has as much to do with upholding the Constitution as the Public Defender. 

The Public Defenders Office represents the poor and downtrodden against the overwhelming power of the police, prosecutors and judges.  

That’s why the name is Public Defender.  

Constitutional guarantees to a fair trial are empty promises unless a defendant, rich or poor, has a well-trained lawyer by their side. Without that lawyer, the Constitution means nothing.

So most of all, 2020 voters will be electing a defender of the Constitution. Is anything else on the ballot more important? 

10 Responses to “Race, Age Overshadowing Campaign To Replace Public Defender Howard Finkelstein”

  1. City activist Robert Walsh says:

    Hear we go again.

    So Atty.Weekes is young and Black.So if Atty.Weekes was White and or Latin or Asian he would not get the endorsement.

    Run on your crediitials,experience etc.To just support someone soley on their race is concerning.

    Maybe Weekes is qualified because he has been at the Public Defenders off etc,no get the endorsement and support because of your race is just not fair( that is why I am against Affrimative Action- what minorities get 5 ,10 extra points on these civil service test etc)is not fair.

    Run on your balls so to speak not your race.Atty.Finklestein needs to stay out of the race.Comes across bias on the sole point he likes Weekes.Let the voters decide not you Atty.Finklestein….


    In theory, you are 100 percent right. Voters should always pick the candidate with the best credentials and most experience.

    In reality, voters cast ballots many times for candidates because they an affinity with them. Ethnic, gender and age similarities are two of the best known reasons.

  2. Man in the Courthouse says:

    Go Ruby!

  3. Dear Gordon says:

    Gordon you say…

    Weekes’ answer:
    He would expand recruitment to law schools across the state. He would increase training in an attempt to retain qualified lawyers. He would be an active spokesman for state funding in Tallahassee.

    So Gordon you are conceding that while Howard was PD and you were his #2 that the PDO training and recruiting of young lawyers has been substandard and the PDO has done nothing to lobby and advance the cause of criminal justice reform in Tallahassee?

    Where was Howard and Gordon, during the fight to get the rights of felons restored? No where to be found.

    Gordon you just admitted you are part of the problem not the solution.

  4. Boyd Corbin says:

    I hired Sean Conway and his partner (who dissolved the partnership after a year) in 2014 when I was falsely arrested for a violent felony and was facing 5 years in jail. I heard that the state attorney told Sean the charges would be dropped the day before the jury trial but Sean didn’t tell me or his partner! So we had to find out the next day just before jury selection. The charges were dropped because a youtube video was found showing the false victim and a handful of lying witnesses made up the whole story. But perjury charges were never filed against any of them since, after all, this IS Broward County with Mike Satz in charge. And an exculpatory witness interview was “lost” too. This is a dangerous county for innocent people.

  5. Jim Lewis Again? says:

    Jim Lewis is just advertising for his law practice. I believe that is why he runs again and again.

  6. Count. LF Chodkiewicz Chudzikiewicz says:



    But the defendants aren’t 16-year-old Eskimos. Maybe in Alaska, Norway and Canada have that debate.

  7. Jus’ Sayin’ says:

    Since the 2020 Fla. Presidential Primary is March 17, I don’t think it “will suck up all the attention” on August 25 when the party primaries are held. But your point on most voters having little knowledge of the candidates for this office is well taken!


    Unlike those obsessed with politics like me, most people have very little time for elections, campaigns and politics. The media, the President and the leading Democrats will make sure all that time and all the political conversation is about Donald Trump through the General Election. He is the most interesting story.

    When you get to elections for local level jobs like Public Defender and others on the primary ballot, most voters just don’t care. Many do care about the presidency and they pay attention to that campaign. That’s why the turnout is higher for presidential elections than any others.

    President Donald Trump is very adept at getting attention. He’s been in the headlines in New York tabloids and then in broadcast media his whole adult life. One tweet of his dominates the news cycle for hours. That leaves very little time in most peoples’ brain for the rest of political life. More than a year before the Election the only politics people talk about is Trump. Trump 24/7. You hear it at the next table in restaurants, people seated near you at baseball games, in line at the movies….everywhere.

    Love him or hate him, Donald Trump is going to suck up all the attention until General Election Day. And he won’t be going away after that election, either.

    Two more points:

    (1) We don’t know what the direction is or time table for the various investigations of Trump. Stories could/will continue to break right up to November’s Election Day.

    (2) The Democratic Party’s national convention (July 13-16) and the Republican Party’s convention (August 24-27) will be in the prime campaigning season for elections in Florida. The primary is August 25.

  8. APD says:

    Thank you for the nice comments about the necessity of the Public Defenders Office. I hope your readers now recognize that the office is not just an ego tool for Howard but a vital part of the justice system.

  9. Remembering Why No Lynch says:

    Didn’t Lynch get called out by some newspaper as the most likely to jail a black person in Broward County and one of the worse in the state?

  10. Count. LF Chodkiewicz Chudzikiewicz says: