Odor in the Court

By state law, judges get elected just like politicians -- a system so idiotic it's criminal. Will somebody please reproach the bench?

Not only did Judge Knight stay in the race, but a third challenger, Jennifer Bailey, entered the contest. While Ambrose trumpeted Knight's DUI arrest, he came under fire for soliciting support from people without informing them that he had an opponent. Eight of his endorsements were withdrawn and he was eventually reprimanded by the Florida Supreme Court. Then came the results of the annual bar poll, a survey of local lawyers conducted by the Florida Bar. Eighty-one percent of the attorneys who ventured an opinion about Ambrose ranked him as "unqualified."

The Miami Herald delivered the final blow. "'Marcus Ambrose attacks the legal system and his opponent in toto,'" he says, quoting the editorial from memory. "'One shudders to think what such vehemence would be like in judicial robes.' Can you believe that?" He stubs out a cigarette viciously, a fleck of ash rising from the ashtray and settling on his forehead. "Needless to say, I lost." He pulled 23 percent of the vote, and Bailey defeated Knight in a runoff.

Ambrose's next move was obvious. At least to Ambrose. "I felt someone needed to run against Steve Clark for [county] mayor," he recalls. "I urged Xavier Suarez to run. I even offered him my political apparatus. But he wasn't interested. So I tested the waters. People said, 'You would have made a great judge. You'll make a great mayor.'" In the blink of an eye, the Ambrose for Judge bus signs were hastily altered to read Ambrose for Mayor. Though the race was supplanted by the new Metro Commission system, the brief run vaulted Ambrose from the status of would-be reformist to political punch line.

He remains indignant about the 1992 race, an anger that triggers in him the tendency to refer to himself in the third person. ("Did Marcus Ambrose take the loss personally? No, Marcus Ambrose did not!")

He pulls the Jeep up to the site of his next appearance, Aventura's Point East condo. He turns to the security guard, a pot-bellied man with a bulldog jaw. "Hi! I'm here for the candidates' forum," he says. "Do you vote, sir?"

The bulldog says nothing.
"Well, I'd like you to have this." Ambrose holds out a pamphlet.
The bulldog stares menacingly.
"You do vote, don't you, sir?" Ambrose repeats.
The bulldog turns away.

Ambrose sticks his head out the window. "You can always get an absentee ballot!" he yells. "Hey, which way is the ballroom?"

He finds the ballroom just in time to hear his name called. He whisks to the front of the room, and tumbles into his spiel.

"What, no applause? I mean, wake up! I know it's been a long day folks, but c'mon." The assembled Jewish seniors, perhaps under the impression that Ambrose is a warmup act imported from the Catskills, clap. "All right, my name is Marcus Ambrose. You see me on the back of the buses. Yes, that's me! Do you wave when you see me, or what? Tomorrow I want you to wave and I'll try to wave back. Visual advertising is great, but you probably want to know something about me. Hopefully, my assistant Laurie Heller gave you some literature about me as you entered. She's a lot prettier than me, wouldn't you all agree? Isn't she beautiful?" He leads a round of applause for Heller, who turns quietly crimson. I wrote the Blueprint for Justice. I won't bore you with it. If you want a copy, call me. I'm in the book. All right, if you're concerned about crime, and I think we all are, that's the reason I'm running again. I will be a fair judge but I'm not going to accept plea bargains for violent criminals. Do you agree? Okay, vote for me, Marcus Ambrose, September 8. Thank you. Zie gazunt."

Ambrose's opponent, incumbent Martin Kahn, speaks next.
His entire speech: "Please ask your lawyers who to vote for. I think they will give you good recommendations."

It turns out to be a long night at Point East; nearly every judicial candidate on the ballot speaks.

What do they talk about? Not much. Rules governing judicial races forbid candidates from discussing anything remotely political (gun control, say, or the death penalty) for fear these opinions might lead to bias on the bench. This leaves candidates with a rather narrow platform. Most wind up groping for a gimmick that will help them be remembered.

County court hopeful Ed Newman discusses his thirteen years as a Miami Dolphin lineman.

His opponent Phillip Brutus -- who Newman's wife politely refers to as "that Haitian monster from Hell" -- opens with a dorky joke. "If you want to remember my name, just think of Julius Caesar. The only thing is, I wasn't there and I didn't kill the guy."

Ameli Padron-Fragetta, eyeing another county court spot, draws chuckles with the slogan, "Don't forget-a Padron-Fragetta."

S. Peter Capua, incumbent circuit court judge, reminisces about his days playing clarinet with the Glenn Miller Band.

Alex Ferrer, one of Capua's two challengers, points out that he used to be a cop who patrolled that very neighborhood.

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