UP-PAC hosts forum for judicial candidates
From l to r: Fla State Rep. Sharon Pritchett, Mavel Ruiz, Judge Fleur Lobree, Martin Zilber, Oscar Rodriguez Fonts, Veronica Diaz and Renier Diaz De La Portilla.
By Derek Joy
The usually sedate atmosphere surrounding judicial candidates took a unique turn at the UP-PAC (Unrepresented People’s Political Action Council) breakfast.
Founded in 1987 by former Miami Dade County Commissioner Betty Ferguson, UP-Pac holds a weekly Saturday morning breakfast at Greater New Bethel Baptist Church to give people access to information and the political process.
“We don’t endorse any candidate,” Ferguson told the six candidates who appeared at the forum. “People here are members of other organizations who may endorse candidates.”
Judicial candidates in Groups 58, 67 and 70 were on hand. They are: Oscar Rodriguez Fonts and Martin Zilber, Circuit Judge Fleur J. Lobree and Mavel Ruiz, along with Veronica Diaz and Renier Diaz De La Portilla, respectively.
Lobree was the lone incumbent present. De La Portilla is one of the few candidates to hold political prior to running for a judicial seat. And Diaz is seeking to be the first Colombian American to win a judicial seat.
Diaz questioned De La Portilla on being a former elected official now seeking a judicial seat.
“The only way to be a good judge is to be a good lawyer. To be a good lawyer you have to practice law,” Diaz said, noting the lengthy public office career of De La Portilla.
De La Portilla responded: “Judge Steve Leifmann made to unsuccessful runs for political office before he finally won a judicial seat. Congressman Hastings (Alcee Hastings, Dem., Miramar) was a federal judge before he was elected to Congress.”
Each candidate was asked and answered questions regarding temperament, public service, commitment, community service, justice and fairness for minorities who appear in Court, among other issues relevant in the judicial process.
Forum Moderator Florida State Representative Sharon Pritchett, when advised that someone was recording the proceedings, cautioned the audience not to do so because of legal ramifications.
Another unique twist surfaced when Ruiz attacked Lobree for being appointed to a County Court seat that she lost, and was subsequently appointed to the Circuit Court.
Lobree became emotional while explaining the loss.
“My mother was ill. I put my energy in helping her instead of campaigning. She died,” said a tearful Lobree, who is a cancer survivor that battle the disease during that campaign.
Diversity was an issue that drew passionate responses from each candidate.
“We need diversity in the Courts. My colleague Judge Smith (County Court Judge Rodney Smith is the only African American running. Of the more than 100 judges on the 11th Judicial Circuit, only six are African American,” Lobree said.
Fonts and Zilber offered interesting emphasis on commitment. “It’s my commitment to God and commitment to the community, said Fonts.
For Zilber, who has served as a traffic magistrate and a member of the Public Health Trust’s Board of Directors, it is “A commitment to the community, about giving back to a community that’s been good to me and my family.
“Often people forget about the judges in Aug., at election time. Judges affect the lives of so many people in the community.”