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?

"And I would just like to say, because it's very important, that a judge must uphold the highest standards in regard to respect for the law. That is why it is regrettable for me to say that what Michael Chavies has done as a lawyer is reprehensible. Michael Chavies was present at a cocaine sale twice. Neither the first nor the second time did Chavies object, leave the room, call the police, or attempt to stop the sale --"

The boos begin, first one, then another, until the whole room is booing.
Most of those present have heard the allegation before. According to Chavies, Smith's campaign had already tried to blackmail him by threatening to expose the 1976 incident if he didn't get out of the race. Chavies says he ignored the threat. Smith held a press conference. The Miami Herald researched the matter but refused to run a story. On the campaign trail, the ploy has been widely considered to be a dip into gutter politics; the distinguished booers obviously concur.

Realizing the extent of the misplay but unable to derail himself, Smith barrels through the rest of his presentation, inaudible but determined. He skulks back to his seat, looking as ashen and irritable as the villain in a silent movie.

Smith does not look any happier as he trundles across the lobby of the Marriott an hour later.

"Ron, how could you have said all that?" asks Victoria Platzer, a candidate for circuit judge.

"I believe in truth, justice, and the American way," Smith shoots back. "That may sound corny but that's what I believe. All right?"

Not wanting to provoke a man who appears patriotic to the point of violence, Platzer veers off to the garage. She has her own faux pas to worry about.

That very evening she opened a speech by announcing, "Hi, my name is Victoria Platzer, and in keeping with the other candidates I'd like to introduce my surrogate spouse Marlene Reiss, who helps at all my functions." Here Platzer pointed to her friend, and the crowd tittered in confusion. "Anyway, someone told me the best way to relieve my nervousness was to imagine everyone in the room naked. But I think I would find that a little distracting." As if to illustrate the point, Platzer dropped the mike, which hit the lectern with an amplified thud. "Sorry, I guess I don't know how to hold a microphone. I'm not a politician. But I do need your support. Thank you."

The applause had been polite (certainly no one booed) but untrue rumors about Platzer's new strategy ("So she's playing the lesbian card, huh?") are already beginning to make the rounds. (Ironically, the only other Victoria running this year, Victoria Sigler, is openly gay. She drew no opponent and automatically won a county court seat.)

Platzer, a divorced mother of two who put herself through law school while working as a Miami Beach cop, tries to remain philosophical. "It's been that kind of a campaign," she remarks.

Indeed. Platzer did not apply for a seat, figuring the appointment system was "a good-old-boys network," and this campaign has been an assault on her naivete. She says she decided to run simply because she felt she would be a better circuit judge than her opponent, Loree Schwartz Feiler, an incumbent in county court who is giving up her seat to run for circuit judge. Platzer based this on her foe's poor bar-poll ratings, her dismal record on appeals, and her judicial demeanor -- Schwartz Feiler is a reputed hothead.

A hothead with friends. "I had lawyers calling me up before I'd even filed," Platzer recalls. "Mostly they told me Loree had too much money to take on, which I found offensive. I mean, what's that got to do with being a good judge? One said he was going to send a letter to every member of his temple to make sure I didn't get elected. And this was a guy whose kids used to play with my kids!"

In Schwartz Feiler, a well-funded Jewish woman, Platzer could hardly have chosen a more imposing foe. The county judge's campaign coffers hold $142,500. She has two consultants and a fleet of volunteers. Platzer is getting some informal help from Bob Levy but won't be able to pay him. Her campaign kitty totals $3243. She has refused to fund-raise A "I don't want to owe anyone favors" A opting instead to hit the condo circuit. "I'm trying the grassroots approach," Platzer says. "And the net result is I'm referring out all my cases and my kids hate me."

To make matters worse, the Schwartz Feiler camp has filed two complaints against Platzer for election-law violations. The first concerns the wording of her campaign literature, the second a Platzer flyer discovered, in violation of the regulations, posted on a telephone pole. "The basic strategy seems to be to keep me busy responding to these things," Platzer says. It's working. She has had to spend hours correcting her brochures, by hand, with a pen.

Schwartz Feiler claims Platzer is running against her only because a third party, who she won't identify, pushed her. "It's a vendetta," the judge sniffs.

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