Monday, August 23, 2010

Comparison in Seminole County Court Judicial race

I am writing this on my own behalf, as my own personal opinion, and not representing any other person or candidate...if you don't like it, blame me and only me. 

Seminole County voters have a choice in the Group 5 County Court race.  I'm not even going to pretend to be unbiased here.  Yes, I am working for the Ladan for Judge campaign, but beyond that Amir Ladan is a friend of mine.  I know him and his family well.  He is absolutely, hands down the best choice in this race and I endorse him enthusiastically and without reservation.

Unfortunately, I cannot say I do not have reservations about some of the other candidates in this race.  One candidate, Debra Krause, has far less courtroom experience than I would like to see in a judicial candidate.  The Orlando Sentinel showed a fundamental misunderstanding about what the job entails when they endorsed another candidate, Greg Hass, who has been handling real estate transactional law as in-house general counsel for a realtors' group, saying that he would bring broader experience to the position.  Well, an attorney who handles patent infringement or international mergers and acquisitions would have broader experience too, but that experience is darn near useless for County Court.

Let's take a minute and talk about what County Court judges actually do.  This position is responsible for four main types of cases: (1) misdemeanor crimes (DUI, battery, domestic violence, petty theft, driving with a suspended license, etc.); (2) domestic violence injunctions, (3) civil traffic citations, and (4) small claims (civil litigation matters under a certain dollar amount).  Categories #1-3 are about 95% of the docket, and small claims cases make up the remaining 5%.

The last few years' economic woes have created severe budget challenges for our judicial system.  The courts have seen their budgets slashed and slashed again with no relief in sight.  Now, I'm definitely a big proponent of keeping taxes low and government as small as possible, but the reality is that we will always have crime in Central Florida, and our court system has to process them one way or another.  Our system of laws and constitutionally-guaranteed protections is not cheap to run.

One way we can create efficiencies (and therefore save money) while still protecting constitutional rights is to select judges who are well-versed in the law, specifically the types of cases they will handle as a judge.  Regarding this County Court position, the best choice would be an attorney who has spent a lot of time in the courtroom, who is well-versed in specific criminal laws and procedural rules, processes for obtaining or objecting to injunctions, the issues that arise in domestic violence cases and the resources available to help victims, etc.  Real estate transactional law, workers' compensation law, international regulations regarding importing livestock...none of that is helpful for this specific judicial position.

On the topic of specifically relevant experience, please check this out from the Ladan for Judge campaign (click on image to enlarge):

I'd like to contrast the above piece with a mailer sent out by Fred Schott's campaign:

First of all, in my opinion, this type of mailer is not appropriate for a judicial race.  Judicial candidates are subject to an additional set of rules of conduct, and this mailer attempts to portray the other candidates in the race as unqualified or inexperienced, by carefully selecting categories so as to not show any check marks for the other candidates.   Fred Schott is unfortunately no stranger to making questionable comparisons as a campaign tactic.  More importantly, however, the mailer contains several inaccuracies and misrepresentations.

Going down the categories in order, Board Certification is a laudable honor, and Schott should be proud of this accomplishment, but he's not the only one who has participated in the Florida Bar's certification program.  Amir Ladan just sat for the Board Certification exam earlier this year and should have the results at the end of this month.

Next, while Schott claims to be a "small business owner for more than 15 years," Ladan founded his own law firm with his friend and fellow former prosecutor Keith Carsten over 9 years ago.  OK, 15 years is longer than 9 years, but is it really accurate to have that big shiny red check mark under Schott's name and nothing under Ladan?  

Third, Amir Ladan is also certified by the Florida Supreme Court to teach the constitution in schools and has done so.  I am not aware of any master list promulgated by the Florida Supreme Court of who has this certification, so the only way to know who has the certification is to ask directly.  Schott did not check with Ladan or the campaign to verify this information before printing the mailer, and has not yet publicly corrected this misrepresentation.

Fourth, Schott has a nice list of endorsements, many carried through from his prior attempt to run for judge in Orange County.  Schott only lists the specific people who have endorsed him, so of course no one else has a check.  That does not mean that Schott is the only one with endorsements.  Ladan also has an impressive list of endorsements, including the Ninth Judicial Circuit State Attorney and a lot of former and current prosecutors...i.e., attorneys who have worked directly with him and know his personal ethics.  Few people know an attorney better than the other attorneys who work with him.  Remember again 2008, when Schott's former law partner endorsed his opponent, without any specific explanation from the Schott campaign.  What bridges were burned so badly that that attorney would publicly denounce Schott like that?

Bottom line, Amir Ladan is the only candidate in this race who has been both a prosecutor and a defense attorney, who has spent nearly every day of his legal career in the courtroom practicing the exact type of law that he would as a judge if elected.  

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