Courting Disaster

Judge Cindy Lederman, champion of justice and advocate extraordinaire, bends the rules on the bench

Stanley says the matter goes further. "While the judge does recuse herself if one of my cases happens to come before her, she also definitely blacklists me from wheel cases," she asserts. "She has never appointed me to a case in her [courtroom] since about 1998."

Why would the judge appoint a lawyer to a case from which she'd have to recuse herself? Because she has no choice. If Stanley's name came up on the wheel, Lederman would be obligated to appoint the lawyer to the case and then bow out.

After lawyers complained they were being excluded, committee members asked Paul Indelicato, director of juvenile-court operations, to investigate. Indelicato assured the attorneys no one was losing work; those who were not appointed to cases in Lederman's courtroom made up for it in front of the other two judges in the division. "Individual attorneys concerned about this particular issue approached me, and I assured them that the distribution of cases was being upheld, irrespective of whether they appeared less in one [judge's courtroom]," Indelicato says. Asked whether that meant he was acknowledging blacklisting, Indelicato replies: "That term is not my term. I'm familiar with that term being bandied about by a certain group of lawyers." Then he adds: "I want to be very clear, I have not acknowledged that allegation in any way, shape, or form." He explains he simply pointed out to the lawyers that they were receiving roughly the same number of assignments from the wheel.

The Juvenile Justice Center, where the state takes on society's most dysfunctional families
Steve Satterwhite
The Juvenile Justice Center, where the state takes on society's most dysfunctional families

During the committee's March 3, 1999, meeting, Stanley broached the subject. "Judge Lederman better do something about this before she reads about it in the papers," she said, according to several people present. Stanley declined to comment about that meeting.

"Yes, she said that," committee member E. Joseph Ryan recalls. "She wasn't the first attorney to say that. The issue [of blacklisting] had been brought up by a lot of attorneys over the preceding year." Ryan, who says he is not blacklisted by the judge, was taking the minutes for the session. He made a note: "Memo to be drafted re: selective appointments by judges." The memo was to be sent to Chief Judge Joseph Farina. A rough draft of the memo reads in part: "Over the past several years, committee members have received repeated complaints that the Administrative Judge, Cindy Lederman, has engaged in a pattern of 'blackballing' and 'handpicking' attorneys. The past several months the committee has been grappling with a means to address this problem."

But on March 9, 1999, before the memo could be sent or the committee could again meet, it was disbanded suddenly and without warning. The order terminating members' tenure was signed by Farina. But as administrative judge, Lederman was in charge of the group. "Nothing happens over there without her okay," one lawyer says. In an April 9 letter, Lederman explained that members' terms had expired. "Additionally it appears that the old committee was unable to function due to lack of a quorum," Lederman added in her note. Several members flatly deny a lack of participation and say Lederman never complained about their work.

Ryan, Stanley, and others believe the dissolution was a direct result of the fact their preparing to raise the issue of blacklisting with Farina. Lederman then appointed a new committee. That group has made no formal statement on blacklisting.

Judge Farina declined to respond to New Times about the alleged blacklisting. But he faxed a statement that reiterated judges are allowed to make off-the-wheel appointments in unique circumstances "with the concurrence of the administrative judge of the juvenile division." Then Farina noted: "The [standing] committee is the proper vehicle through which issues of appointment of attorneys should be addressed."

Anecdotal evidence of Lederman's thin skin abounds. Many who have crossed her in court say they have experienced retaliation.

In late 1998 lawyers with the University of Miami's Children and Youth Law Clinic appealed Lederman's decision to incarcerate a juvenile in a mental-health facility. The appeals court overturned Lederman's ruling. (The court later reversed itself). Shortly thereafter clinic director Bernard Perlmutter says the dean of UM's law school, Mary Doyle, called him into her office. "She said, 'I was just reamed out,'" Perlmutter recalls. "Judge [Lederman] was incensed the court granted this petition. I was told [by Doyle] the judge wanted the university to defund the clinic. I don't have direct knowledge of this; you should really contact Mary Doyle."

Although Perlmutter was under the impression Lederman had called Doyle, in fact it was Senior Judge William Gladstone, the former administrative judge for juvenile court and a Lederman admirer. "I didn't say they should be defunded, not that I recall," Gladstone says. "I read a newspaper article and was very concerned. This child needed help." Lederman, he says, never asked him to make the call. "That would be improper," he remarks.

Doyle, who is working at the U.S. Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C., while on sabbatical, declined to comment.

But Lederman isn't beyond making a call herself to criticize her detractors. Last December a brief item appeared in the Miami Herald announcing the Women's Fund of Miami-Dade County gave a grant to the law clinic. Lederman called the fund, according to executive director Claudia Kitchens. "She just wanted to express her concerns about the clinic's approach to handling the legal representation of children," Kitchens says.

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