Eight lawyers with a combined 184 years of legal experience are competing for three positions on the Broward Circuit bench this election season.
In the Aug. 14 primary, just one Broward Circuit judge – former Chief Judge Dale Ross – is facing a challenger.
In Group 35, Ross, who has served on the county and circuit benches for more than three decades, is being challenged by private defense attorney and law professor, Michael "Mickey" Rocque.
Rocque, a former assistant public defender who's known in the courthouse for his cheery disposition and his custom of greeting everyone he meets, said he's not attacking Ross but he believes it's time for a change.
"I have been in court almost every day for the last 25 years and I have a true appreciation and understanding of how the judicial system works and how it could work better," said Rocque.
Rocque counts among his achievements his work to help set up the state's drug courts, which give first-time drug offenders a chance to fix their problems, saving time and money in the justice system.
Ross said he's proud of his record on the bench and wants to serve another six-year term before he retires.
"I've always said that I love the job so much that I'd do it for free," said Ross. "I've worked hard and I'd like to continue to do the job that this community has asked me to do for 31 — working on 32 — years."
Ross said he's been vilified by a small group of courthouse critics who say he is insensitive. Ross said his record as chief judge belies that because he approved innovative court services including drug court, mental health court and domestic violence court to best serve the community.
Circuit judges handle felony crimes and major civil suits as well as family, juvenile and probate cases. The races are non-partisan and the job pays about $142,000 a year.
In Group 19, candidates Michael Ian Rothschild and Julie Shapiro-Harris are competing for the seat being vacated by Rothschild's father, Ronald Rothschild, who is retiring.
The younger Rothschild said that the jobs he's done — from camp counselor at age 15 to roofing company laborer, former assistant public defender and private lawyer — have taught him essential lessons on how to be a judge here.
"I understand that a judge serves the community and the decisions made affect not only the person standing before the bench but their friends, families, neighbors and others," Rothschild said.
Shapiro-Harris, who's married to political consultant Barry Harris, said she wants to continue her history of public service.
A former social worker, Shapiro-Harris has spent the last eight years as a staff attorney for the Clerk of Court. Her job is to review requests from the public seeking protective injunctions against domestic, dating and sexual violence and make recommendations to judges. She previously practiced family law and worked for the Legal Aid Service of Broward County.
"Public service is my passion and so is the law, this is the perfect way for me to combine the two," said Shapiro-Harris.
Finally, four candidates are vying to replace retiring Circuit Judge Robert Rosenberg in Group 45.
The contenders are Julio E. Gonzalez Jr., a former Broward County judge; Oliver Parker, a lawyer and former Lauderdale-by-the-Sea mayor and commissioner; Rhoda Sokoloff, a family law practitioner and mental health advocate; and Laura Marie Watson, a former prosecutor who represents homeowners and healthcare providers in insurance disputes.
Gonzalez was appointed to the bench in 2006 by former Gov. Jeb Bush and was voted out in late 2008. He received strong reviews from fellow attorneys who gave him the highest rating for legal knowledge, judicial ethics and judicial temperament in 2008, but analysts said his seat was targeted in the election year because of his Hispanic name.
Formerly a prosecutor in New York and Miami, he also did defense work, was a law professor, and said he handled more than 400 trials and court hearings as a judge.
If elected, Gonzalez vowed to be prompt and prepared, to listen, and to be respectful, civil and decisive.
Parker, who was most recently a member of the Board of Supervisors of the Broward Soil & Water Conservation District, ending in 2010, said his legal experience and handling of quasi-judicial hearings as a politician give him the edge over his competitors.
Sokoloff said her volunteer work for families affected by mental illness and her life experience as a legal secretary who fulfilled her dream by eventually graduating from law school, would make her a good judge.
Watson said her work advocating first for victims of sexual abuse and then enforcing Fort Lauderdale's municipal codes as a city prosecutor cracking down on slumlords, helped to improve the quality of life for residents. She is now in private practice.
firstname.lastname@example.org, 954-356-4533 or Twitter @SentinelPaula
Family: Married; two adult daughters, four grandchildren
Education: Bachelor's degree, Western Kentucky University, 1969; law degree, Stetson University, 1973
Occupation: County and circuit judge since 1981, lawyer since 1973, chief judge 1991-2007
Key endorsements: Broward Property Appraiser Lori Parrish; Fort Lauderdale Mayor John P. "Jack" Seiler;AFL-CIO
Michael "Mickey" Rocque
Family: Divorced; three children ages 6 to 23, one grandson
Education: Bachelor's degree in marketing, University of South Florida, 1983; law degree, Nova Southeastern University, 1987
Occupation: Private defense attorney since 1993, former assistant public defender
Key endorsements: The Miami Herald
Michael Ian Rothschild
Family: Married, two children
Education: Bachelor's degree in English and linguistics, University of Florida, 1997; law degree, Nova Southeastern University, 2000
Occupation: Commercial litigation since 2010; private practice since 2006; former assistant public defender
Education: Bachelor's degree, Emory University, 1982; master's degree, social work, Florida State University, 1985; law degree,St. Thomas University, 1995
Occupation: Staff attorney for Broward Clerk of Courts domestic violence unit since 2004; previously worked for Legal Aid Service of Broward County, private practice and as social worker
Key endorsements: Broward 10-13 Club (retired New York police officers); Essie "Big Mama" Reed (charity worker)
Julio E. Gonzalez, Jr.
Family: Married; three children
Education: Bachelor's degree in education, Manhattan College, 1992; law degree, Syracuse University, 1995
Occupation: Private practice since 2009; Broward County judge 2006-2008; former prosecutor
Family: Married; two stepsons, two grandchildren
Education: Bachelor's degree in philosophy, University of Miami, 1973; law degree, University of Miami, 1976
Occupation: Attorney in private practice since 1977; former mayor and town commissioner Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, 1994-2008.
Key endorsements: None listed
Family: Divorced; two sons
Education: Bachelor's degree in legal studies, The Union Institute & University, North Miami, 1994; law degree, Nova Southeastern University, 1999
Occupation: Private practice, mostly family law; former legal secretary/paralegal
Key endorsements: Frank Talerico, Margate City Commissioner
Laura Marie Watson
Family: Divorced; one son
Education: Bachelor's degree in English, Stetson University, 1982; law degree, Stetson University, 1984
Occupation: Private practice since 1997, specializing in insurance disputes. Former state prosecutor in Fort Myers and municipal prosecutor for city of Fort Lauderdale.
Key endorsements: Paul Sallarullo, Arif Shad, Ed CespedesCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times