Judicial candidates embrace controversy, questions and answers at forum
Members of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Dade County Alumni Chapter.
By Derek Joy
They assembled at New Birth Faith of Cathedral where the signs above the pulpit held some reverent words.
“Walking in the favor of God – Luke 4:19,” read the words on the sign above with the words “The Year of Divine Favor.”
Thus began the forum hosted by the Gwen S. Cherry Black Women Lawyers Association (GSCBWLA), the Dade County Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta, Sorority, Inc., and the National Action Network (NAN), South Florida Chapter.
“It’s raining, it’s ugly outside and you’re here, that’s a testament to how incredibly important it is to be aware of the issues,” said Cynthia Henry Duvall, president of GSCBWLA.
Thomas A. Cobitz and Ste-
phen T. Millan in Group 16; Circuit Judge Rodney “Rod” Smith and Christian Carrazana in Group 26; Mary C. Gomez and Alberto Milian in Group 27; Oscar Rodriguez Fonts and Martin Zilber in Group 58; Judge Fleur Lobree and Mavel Ruiz in Group 67; Veronica Diaz in Group 70; County Judge Nuria Saenz and Victoria Ferrer in Group 36; Judge Jacqueline Schwartz and Rachel G. Dooley in Group 19 appeared for the question and answer session.
Karen Wiggins, president of the Dade County Alumni Chapter of Delta Sigma Sorority, Inc. and Kisha’sha Sharp of the South Florida Chapter of NAN, welcomed the candidates, gave a bio-sketch of their respective organizations while high-lighting their roles in organizing and hosting the forum.
Kadisha Phelps, a Board Member of GSCBWLA, was the moderator. She asked some piercing questions for the candidate’s field. One such question was what life example experience under stress prepared you with the temperament to be a judge?
“Raising children every day,” said Zilber, while noting he has raised two children into adult-hood.
The question of the day was “Do you think it’s important for a judge to be a team player?” brought opposing responses from the Group 36 participants.
Judge Saenz answered, “Yes,” while Ferrer said, “A judge cannot be a team player. The focus should be the rule of law. It must be about justice.”
The drama waxed thicker when Smith and Carrazana responded to questions from Phelps. They were asked, “How will electing you improve the administration of justice?”
“I’m qualified,” said Smith, adding “The Cuban American Bar Association rated me as 98 percent qualified and rated my opponent (Carrazana) 91 percent unqualified. You can’t substitute experience for the experiment.”
Carrazana heatedly responded, “The only reason I’m running against Judge Smith is because of his decisions in insurance cases during the past two years. Many say I’m running against him because of race. It’s not. It’s because of his decisions.”
Carrazano encouraged the audience to further look into why Smith has accepted “$150,000 in campaign contributions from insurance companies.”
Such was the testy nature of opponents in all but the Group 58 candidates – Rodriguez-Fonts and Zilber.
When asked how the court deals with race and gender bias, Rodriguez Fonts said, “I’m sure it exists. It’s never been blatant. If I saw it I would definitely call out the person.”
Zilber, said, “A lot of it has to do with the individual. We’ve come a long way but we need to improve.”