Recent Broward Law Blog Features

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Judge Brown Nips Judge Fernandez for Top Dade Job

Ripped From the Headlines: This is off the breaking news updates from the Daily Business Review, concerning our neighbors in the county to the South....

Judge Joel Brown narrowly defeated Judge Ivan Fernandez Thursday to become chief of the state’s biggest circuit in uncertain budget times. Brown was elected chief judge of the Miami-Dade Circuit Court by a three-vote margin in the balloting by the county’s 123 eligible judges, the DBR reported. The vote was 62-59, they said.

Brown has served as the administrative judge of the family division since 2001 and has been on the bench for 18 years. In the aftermath of Hurricane Wilma in 2005, he shuffled court calendars to move cases away from damaged portions of the downtown Miami building.

Brown declined to comment. “It was very tense. We were neck and neck almost all the way through,” said Fernandez, who congratulated Brown after losing the election. “I think we showed that we can choose a new chief judge in a really professional manner,” he added. “We’re all going to be behind him.”

Fernandez was a Miami police officer for 17 years and earned his law degree in night school at the University of Miami. In a high-profile case in 2007, he ruled a controversial memo written by Miami City Commissioner Marc Sarnoff about a disputed Related Group condo development on Mercy Hospital property was not a public record. He was reversed by the 3rd District Court of Appeal, and the memo raising bribe allegations against City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones was made public.

“There are a lot of challenges ahead for our chief judge,” said historian and Circuit Judge Scott Silverman after the race. “It’s the chief judge who will lead us into the next centennial.” Outgoing Chief Circuit Judge Joseph Farina put the administrative position in play after 13 years when he announced in October that he would step down as chief but remain on the bench.

The court system dodged a bullet last month when the state Legislature restructured the court system’s funding scheme, primarily by raising fines and fees, to keep the court system from a second round of austere cuts in less than a year. Court officials had been ordered to draft scenarios for dealing with a 10 percent budget cut, but the bill that came out of the special session cut funding by 1.25 percent while setting aside dedicated funds for the justice system. Critics worry the court system is betting its future on a revenue stream prone to major fluctuations. They are.

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