Psssst! Wanna Be a Judge?

Follow these ten simple steps and they'll be calling you "Your Honor" in no time!

While the vast majority of judges and lawyers view judicial elections as an abomination, there are others among us who may look upon the biennial circus as something more benign. Something intriguing. Something very much like a golden opportunity. The following ten-step guide is intended for those visionaries who would dare add a black robe to their fall fashion ensemble:

1. Know the basics: Elections are held every two years. County court terms last four years and pay $82,764 per annum. Circuit court seats pay $93,111 over a six-year term. The next filing deadline is July 1996; the fee is $5121. To qualify for a circuit or county judgeship, one must have been a member of the Florida Bar for the past five years. (Don't jump the gun. Two years ago candidate Ed Newman, a former Miami Dolphin lineman, fell a few weeks short of eligibility. In disqualifying him the courts ignored the fact that Newman had, as he frequently points out on the campaign trail, played in three Super Bowls.) Candidates must also must live in Dade and be registered to vote here.

2. Raise money. Now: The best way to scare someone out of a race is to ante up big bucks early on. It doesn't pay to be embarrassed to beg. Remember, a judge is an individual of considerable fiduciary power. Lawyers will be happy to help out, provided they're given the right pitch.

3. Hire consultants: Yes, they're greasy characters, but the best ones, who manage up to a dozen candidates, get their clients onto the bench unopposed. Presto judge-o! By hiring a few consultants, a judicial hopeful can virtually guarantee that no fellow candidate becomes a competitor.

4. Consider a name change: It is generally acknowledged that most people enter the voting booth knowing next to nothing about judicial candidates. Names are key. Short, ethnically identifiable monikers are good, especially if they are associated with other upstanding public officials. Court Broom villain Roy Gelber, for instance, benefited from the popularity of his uncle Seymour Gelber, a former judge and the mayor of Miami Beach. Seymour's good friend Chief Judge Leonard Rivkind has drawn opposition this year for the first time in his distinguished career. The challenger's name: Allan Smith. "Smith is a good name," concedes Gerald Schwartz, Rivkind's paid consultant. "Trustworthy." Especially with Secretary of State Jim Smith on the same ballot, in the Republican gubernatorial primary. Circuit Court Judge David Tobin's challenger is an obscure lawyer with poor ratings in the Florida Bar poll and scant financial backing. He has been virtually invisible on the campaign trail. But his name is Ron Silver -- just like the popular state senator.

4a. Consider a hyphen: Experts say that in a judicial race, the candidate listed first on the ballot can count on ten percent more votes. This might explain why Judge Ann Mason Parker wrote a letter to the Dade County Elections Department requesting that she be listed on the county court slate as Ann Mason-Parker. Her opponent: public defender Marlene Montaner.

5. Consider a dress: Women vote more. Women win more.
6. Talk about crime: Though judicial rules prohibit candidates from discussing anything of interest, crime has somehow been exempted from the list. The public's paranoia should be fully exploited in this regard.

7. Kiss Jim Hampton's hiney: A word to the wise: Along with his editorial board, the editor of Miami's only daily newspaper determines who the Herald endorses.

8. Hit below the belt: Consultant Bob Levy explains: "Unless you're willing to bash the shit out of an incumbent, you're going to get beat."

9. Don't fret about qualifications: How many respected, big-firm attorneys are running for judge? Not many. If they were eminently qualified, they probably would have been appointed by now. No one sweats a low rating in the Florida Bar poll, either. Everyone knows the poll is a meaningless exercise in lawyerly back-scratching and -biting. Except of course those who score high, who consider the poll to be the only fair gauge of a candidate's judicial abilities.

10. Signage: It is degrading to imagine that voters would fill the bench based on these Day-Glo nuisances. Degrading but accurate.

 
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