By Janice Hayes
The Fort Lauderdale/Broward NAACP hosted “An Evening with the Black Judges” event on Thursday, February 22, 2018 at New Hope Baptist Church. This event afforded the community an opportunity to learn more about the judges and judicial processes.
It was standing room only with people from diverse demographics in attendance. Rev. Young and the staff of Little Learners Academy brought 18 children from their school to the event. These young children ranged in age from four to eleven years old. There were seniors, veterans, politicians, sorority and fraternity members, community advocates, lawyers, school alumni classes, Longshoremen, Lodge members, retirees and others from various communities, professions, groups and individuals.
Gordon Weekes, Chief Assistant Public Defender, was the master of ceremony. He meticulously introduced every judge and gave the audience a personal glimpse of their personal path to the bench. Marsha Ellison, President of the local NAACP, gave an uplifting welcome address along with Rev. Ricky Scott, Senior Pastor of New Hope.
There are currently eight Black judges serving in Broward County: Judge Ilona Holmes, Judge Elijah Williams, Judge Kenneth Gillespie, Judge Michael Robinson, Judge Keathan Frink, Judge Kal Evans, Judge Florence Barner, and Judge Fabienne Fahnestock. Also, in the judicial line-up were retired Judge Mary Rudd-Robinson and Judge Zebedee Wright. Magistrate Phobee Francios is one of the candidates seeking appointment by Governor Scott to fill a recently vacated seat.
Judge Ilona Holmes asked for a moment of silence for the victims and families of the Parkland tragedy. She shared that after 23 years, she plans to retire from the bench next year but will continue to play an active and integral role in the community.
Each judge spoke passionately about the potential for every lawyer who wants to serve as a judge to work diligently and stay focused because good judges are needed and because we need more Black judges on the bench.
“We need Black judges that will think and act differently,” said Judge Elijah Williams. Judge Williams is one of the most respected judges on the bench and serves as a mentor to other judges.
Judge Gillespie stressed the importance of diversity on the bench. Judge Michael Robinson emphasized the need to speak truth to power with solution-focused ideas. Judge Frink discussed the appointment process and challenged lawyers to seek judgeships. Judge Barner gave encouraging advice to other young women seeking office. Judge Evans and Judge Fahnestock elaborated on the importance of mentorship and helping other young people from the inner-urban core make good choices by instilling hope. Retired Judge Mary Rudd Robinson shared her experience and perspective on seeking a judgeship. She said the key was perseverance. Retired Judge Zebedee Wright expressed his gratitude and pride in the progress that has been made in Broward County with more Black judges on the bench.
Weekes reminded the attendees to contact the governor’s office and encourage him to consider Magistrate Phobee Francois for his appointment to fill the vacant seat. Broward County is increasingly becoming a more ethnically diverse community. When we value diversity, we acknowledge that our differences are an asset to our democracy.