The Reason Judges Face Opponents


buddy nevins, summer 2006

The mood was jovial at the judicial robing ceremony Friday.

That was surprising considering the five appointed judges being robed have targets on their backs.

This year has already brought the biggest challenge to the Broward bench in decades. 

Eight Broward judges have opponents. There are surely more to come.

Word is that Circuit Judge John Luzzo will be the next to draw an opponent.

The reasons for this are myriad:


The recession has hit lawyers in the pocket — especially younger, less established ones.   They are having a tough time making a living.

A seat on the bench has regular paycheck of more than $142,000 for a circuit judge and $134,000 for a county judge. It comes with generous benefits including a huge pension, a free office, staff and no need to manage a law practice.

No wonder the bench has become more desirable in the shaky economy.


The Judicial Nominating Commission has a Republican litmus test.

GOP insiders and friends of Gov. Charlie Crist get judicial appointments. Good Democrats get a pass.

It is decidedly unfair and makes a mockery of the fairness of the appointment process.  (I still support the fair appointment of all judges and the merit retention election of incumbent judges.) 

For instance, the JNC has been unwilling to appoint public defenders.  Many of the appointed judges last week were former prosecutors.

Don’t get me wrong.  The JNC has always been political.

It was even worse under Gov. Jeb Bush, when his staff would question potential appointees about their position on abortion and other social issues.

Under Gov. Lawton Chiles, the PDs Office had the major voting bloc in the JNC.  It was Republicans and prosecutors who were complaining.  I know because I got the calls at the Sun-Sentinel.

Because of increased awareness in recent years, the impression has been growing that in Democratic Broward,  a Democratic lawyer doesn’t have a chance for an appointment. 

That’s wrong.


JAABlog has changed everything, exposing hypocrisy and wrongdoing on the bench.

JAABlog has torn the mask of invulnerability off the judiciary.

Although it is largely read by courthouse insiders, it has added clout because it is followed closely by the general media and other Internet web sites, such as 

It doesn’t stop with the Internet. 

The younger generation of lawyers are unwilling to kowtow to the old courthouse power structure.  

Then there is Public Defender Howard Finkelstein.  Don’t underestimate his influence on younger lawyers and the courthouse.

Finkelstein confronts judges openly when he believed them to be doing the wrong thing. 

Finkelstein allows his assistants to challenge to judges he doesn’t like.  The assistant public defenders keep their pay and get their jobs back if they lose the elections.

Try that in State Attorney Mike Satz’s office. 

The judges huff and puff, but they can’t do anything to Finkelstein.  With his “Help Me Howard TV fame and his personal charm, he is politically unassailable.


Does this portend a future bench which will be heavily influenced by the defense Bar?  We will have to see who wins in August.

It won’t be easy to beat some of these incumbent judges, such as County Court Judge Ed Merrigan.

Merrigan’s a war hero. He’s an officer in the U. S. Army and was scheduled to go to Iraq in March.  Now he will probably go later in the year.

His opponent is a young DUI lawyer.

If he ends up overseas before the end of the election, Merrigan should have no fear.  He has a secret weapon — his wife Tamara Rimes Merrigan.

Married just 4 years to the judge, it is clear from her speech at the robing ceremony that Tamara is madly in love with her husband. 

An attorney with Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler’s firm, she had the ability to convey those feelings in a warm, personal and at times humorous look at her husband. 


The judge had known Tamara for years.  She knew him as someone with lengthy legal and life experience.

She noted her husband had tried over 300 cases in 65 of the state’s 67 counties.  He was also man who put  his legal career on hold, volunteering to fight in Iraq because he believed it was right thing.

The judge was “a decorated combat veteran who leads soldiers into raging battles and “a man that is willing to die for something he believes in, Tamara said.

She described how her life changed after their relationship blossomed into love.

At 43, this life-long bachelor moved from a huge house he earned with successful legal practice into a tiny one that came complete with Tamara’s two daughters. From living with combat troops, he suddenly was living in “a girl’s dorm. 

She found out that the judge was most happy when being a Dad. He loved playing and taking care of her two daughters and just being her husband.

Glancing over at the judge, Tamara summed up how she felt about her husband:  “I really am the luckiest woman. 

Hardened members of the courthouse crowd were dabbing their eyes.

She hit all the bases experience, heroics and compassion. 

Tough stuff to run against.

Tamara gave the best speech at the robing ceremony and one of the best I’ve ever heard about a judicial candidate. And I’ve listened to them all the way back to the 1970s.

She should take it on the road — to condominiums, civic groups and political clubs.


Most judges are going to have to campaign without their wife. Some have been through elections before, such as County Judge Peter Skolnick.

Others, especially some of the appointees, don’t have a clue about being a candidate. They’ve got to learn fast.

Because the only thing certain about the judiciary this year is…they’ll be a lot of new judges after the election.

25 Responses to “The Reason Judges Face Opponents”

  1. Couple More Reasons says:

    How about the number one reason a few judges are getting challenged?

    They are lousy judges…..

    They don’t treat people with respect….

    They play favorites….

    They don’t call balls and strikes like a good umpire should and instead have an agenda….

    The cracks in the dam started appearing in 2008 — albeit with a anti-latin flair.

    2010 shows that the old system, where lawyers should fear the bench and getting run out of town for thinking to challenge a judge is DEAD.

    Whether the dozen-plus challengers win or lose, the judicial system is better for it.

    It proves that yes, you can be appointed to a seat, but it’s not YOUR SEAT. Every 6 years, you better show the public you’ve earned it.

  2. Strange Very Strange says:

    Kind of weird how it is only the Jewish lawyers (with one exception)who have struggled in this economy and have seen the unfairness of the JNC.
    Strange, very strange.

  3. Appoint Judges says:

    Judges should be appointed on the basis of merit by random calling of panels made up of retired judges. Not a judicial nominating committee that by it’s nature is politically biased. Not by elections because they can’t speak to residents about their views, so voters can’t know in advance what they are voting for.

    Retired judges know best what kind of lawyers, what kinds of backgrounds, what kinds of temperament is needed to succeed on the bench. If you choose them for panels by lottery, then the politics becomes much less of a factor if at all depending on the rules crafted.

    Rules can also be crafted encouraging diversity on the bench. Each panel gets applications, screens them, interviews finalists and sends the top finalist, or the top three, to the Governor for appointment. He can refuse the bunch only for cause, meaning that a new panel gets formed to go through it again.

    Reappointments should likewise be made in this fashion on the basis of a review of how well they performed. This will create a much better judiciary, and you will get the lawyers out of the business of funding campaigns.

    That is the only intelligent answer to this problem.

  4. old news says:

    already posted on the JUICE yesterday re: laura seidman running for judge

  5. Davie Watchdog says:


    Before you throw another punch, you should pay your bills and get some mental help.

    You want links, here’s the video that you were so insane about, you disappeared for days and threatened suicide.

    But disappearing for a little while, not calling your family, checking into a nearby hotel, and then getting 8 detectives and multiple law enforcement agencies looking for you… well to you that’s just a regular occurance.

    You have no idea who you’re messing with. We’re smarter and have more money. You can’t win and you’re only digging your own hole deeper.

  6. Anonymous1 says:

    Laura Seidman has no business running for judge. Didn’t she get fired from her last job at the North Broward Hospital District?

  7. One More Reason says:

    When Dale Ross was chief judge, he strongly discouraged lawyers from running against “his” judges. Threats were issued by his henchmen and lawyers feared that they would never get a fair ruling if they dared to run against a judge, even if the incumbent was incompetent. Ross is no longer in power and there is nobody to discourage qualified lawyers from running.

  8. Hey Very Strange says:

    It is not only the Jewish judges or even nearly that. Ask the Hispanic judges that got toppled whether they were treated “fairly.” Buddy hit on the issue above.

    Running against a sitting Judge in this community used to be out of bounds. Then judges started acting stupid and calling bad attention to themselves. It became OK to challenge judges. Then the economy tanked, giving lawyers another reason to seek the safe refuge of a guaranteed salary with pension and benefits.

    Now enter the defense attorneys and other lawyers to take advantage of that situation. They understandably want their own people to be judges instead of the some of the ones we have. Nobody has a greater stake in the outcome of a judge election than lawyers. So they invest heaviliy in the campaigns of the ones they want to win.

    That is why judges are being challenged and that is the dynamic behind it. It is not the best qualified judge that gets elected. It’s the one with the slickest, best funded campaign, or the one with the best sounding name to the voters.

    Question: Does anybody give a shit out there? I don’t think so. That’s why it will continue.

    FROM BUDDY: You are right. Few voters care about these races, which is something the courthouse crowd tends to forget.

    Jewish candidates dominate the elections because of cynical ethnic politics. There is a three-decades-old belief that Jewish voters dominate the primary when the judicial races are held.

    The Jewish theory may not work this year because of the expected high turnout among Republicans driven to the polls by the U. S. Senate race.

    Add to that the decline of the influence of Jewish condominium voters. (My family inherited a condominium in Century Village Pembroke Pines. The only buyers to look at it are Hispanics. Also, the number of Republican voters in Century Village are growing while the number of Jewish Democrats is declining rapidly.)

    Also, some of these judicial races will have runoff in the general election when the Jewish sounding names are less desirable.

    This emphasis on Jewish-sounding names is promoted by a collection of aging political consultants, who formed their ideas about Broward politics a generation ago. They have been slow to realize the new world of Broward politics. Perhaps a new, younger crop of consultants (Ilana Bofford Entin? Mitch Topel?) are more attuned to today. We shall see.

  9. Broward Attorney says:

    Maybe the reason Luzzo will draw an opponent is that he is a horribly indecisive judge of mediocre legal reason abilities (at best), he’s relatively lazy, he routinely plays favorites among those lawyers in the past who generously gave him free sports tickets (which got Luzzo censured by the Supreme Court). Unlike a good judge who drew an opponent last time (Julio Gonzalez comes to mind), Luzzo should have been challenged at the polls YEARS ago!!

    I’m not saying my dog would be a better judge than Luzzo … but he couldn’t be any worse.

  10. disenchanted says:

    there are some horrible judges on the bench, are they being challenged, no, wonder why, could it be aside from skolnik , that they have the right sounding names, remember the fogan and musselman races a few years ago. neither times nor politics change. are we getting better people on the bench, one only has to look at the results of the last election, again, beauty and results are in the eye of the beholder….

  11. Don Ho says:

    You forgot to mention Lisa Trachman will opposed.

  12. Judge Sirica says:

    Anonymous1: Seidman resigned when it was clear that Fernandez was going to retaliate against her for objecting to Rebecca Stoll’s ethical violations. Overnight he “found” performance issues.

  13. Devil's Advocate says:


    Great piece and you raise some interesting issues. He are some additional thoughts.

    First look at all of the judicial candiates from the PD’s office. They have nothing to lose by running. If they lose on election day the next day they get up and go to work. I hope someone will be keeping an eye on these folks so that they are not campaigning during work hours.

  14. Mike is a fool says:

    There are many fine lawyers deserving a judgeship in your elected state attorney’s office. Mike won’t let any run. He’s a fool.

  15. No Nonsense says:

    You raise some good issues, but BAR restraints on campaigning and public apathy add up to bad judges being elected. BTW shouldn’t your work be listed as an in-kind contribution to Merrigan. This is the second fluff piece you’ve done on him. Memories of your work promoting Navarro.

    FROM BUDDY: Navarro! Wow, that sheriff’s race goes back more than 25 years. I’m not going to relive that race, but I will say that the Democratic organization and their foolish advisors put Navarro in office. Not me.

    My experience is that anything written positively about a candidate is termed a “puff piece” by opponents of that candidate. If I had written negatively about Merrigan, you would have praised me for writing “the truth.”

  16. Nothing to compare says:

    Ok, maybe Julio should run against Luzzo? Oh wait a certain plea agreement said that Julio recently worked for a lawfirm that was a criminal enterprise, so that dream is over.

    Besides the name Julio lost because he had no ties to the community. His own mail piece said nothing but watching his daughter play tball at TY park. Luzzo has been involved with every major charity in this town and he has deep roots and lots for friends. Luzzo will be tough to beat which is why no one to date has filed against him.

  17. Random thoughts says:

    What? No mention of Laura Seidman? Why? She is the wife of a judge who is running against a sitting judge. And that sitting judge isn’t even doing a bad job on the bench- and no one else is running against that sitting judge. So why does Judge Lisa Porter have an opponent? This doesn’t look like an opportunist candidate- doesn’t she have a job- doesn’t she make alot of money? Why work as a judge and get paid less?

    And Porter doesn’t even have a bad reputation. Any thoughts Buddy?

    Also what about Melissa Donoho’s comment to Bob Norman, that the reason she was running was because “judges should get opponents- it’s an elected seat.” My question is…. What if the judge is doing a good job, like Merrigan or Porter?

    Do you wonder what it’s like for Seidman to walk the halls among the other judges? Did he apporve this move- did he orchestrate it? Who wears the pants in that family anyway????

  18. Frustrated JAP on ster..ds says:

    hello 2:56!!! need i say more???

  19. No Nonsense says:

    Excuse me for the misuse of terms, I’ll bow to your better knowledge on Puff Pieces. I really have no preference in this race. You just seem to be Merrigan’s Chris Matthews.

  20. Be fair and balanced Buddy says:

    Yes, Buddy maybe you should be more fair and balanced about the candidacy of Lloyd Golburgh or should I say “Sex Offenses Attorney Lloyd Golburgh”

    Or Fort Lauderdale Armed Robbery Attorney Lloyd Golburgh

    And of course Lloyd’s bread and butter, Fort Lauderdale Multiple DUI Attorney

  21. Mother of an Attorney says:

    I think its great to have Judges challenged. This is America, opportunity for all. The bench is not inherited and it is not a family business.
    Competition is great!
    They should all be challenged.

  22. a note from epstien's mother says:

    must be lloyds must be so proud to have a son that holds himself out as the friend and protector of child abusers and other sexual offenders.

  23. Jan says:

    I have witnessed on three different occassions the lack of professionalism and the tackiness of Judge Holmes in Judge Gillespie’s courtroom. The last was this week when she interrupted court while he was sentencing people to prison to cogratulate him on his first year annivesary since being appointed. How raggedy! This could have been done before court, after the morning calendar, lunch time or in her chambers. Gillespie is bought and owned by Special Interest Grps, State Attorney’s Office and often assist them with their arguments and he gives them clear directions. This is not a fair system as a Judge should not have a dog in this fight. If the State is not prepare it is not his job to assist.No party should be given a tactical advantage, The Judicial Canon(3) clearly stae that a Judge shall require order and decorum in proceedings before the Judge. It also states that a judge shall be patient, dignified, and courteous to litigants, jurors, witnesses et. al with whom the judge deals in and official capacity, and shall require similar conduct of lawyers, and of staff, court officials, and others subject to the judge’s direction and control.

  24. play the game says:

    Look what’s happening now Buddy… last count 10 incumbents have opponents. Some deserve it and some don’t. But honestly, some of the judges who got appointed were not so worthy. For one, as you stated in your article, the JNC throws every Democrat’s application in the garbage. The JNC won’t even look at them. Great judcial prospectives are entirely eliminated from the process. How is that not different from the condos only voting for a nice name?

    And then you have judges like Merrigan who knew the right people, or Julio Gonzalez who was the right ethnicity at the time and Stacy Ross and Catalina Avalos… all appointed with not much legal or life experience. Even Judge Haimes, who was just appointed, only worked as a prosecutor his entire (short) career. He became a federal prosecutor because he knew the right people and then a judge for the same reason. It all stinks.

    I say…. if the voters want to be uniformed and elect the wrong people … so be it. It’s time for the voters to wake up and understand how important it is to vote for judges with strong legal and life experience… well rounded careers and a reputation for honesty, diginity and fairness. And the same goes for the JNC. Fairness all around.

  25. J. Beram says:

    Anyone have any experience with Judge Lisa Porter? I hear she is an ethical Judge and knows the Law well?