Broward judge denies demeaning people in court


Posted January 1 2002, 9:29 AM EST

MIAMI -- A judge denied charges that he belittled people in his courtroom, including using a prop that emits the sound of a flushing toilet to show his displeasure.

Broward Circuit Judge Sheldon M. Schapiro said Monday the charges against him are untrue, ``overblown,'' too vague to specifically respond to, or appropriate judicial behavior toward attorneys who were out of line.

Last month the Judicial Qualifying Commission filed formal charges against Schapiro, concluding that since 1996 he ``continuously engaged in a pattern of demeaning, abusive and intemperate behavior toward counsel and witnesses.''

The commission can recommend sanctions to the state Supreme Court.

Schapiro said the toilet-flushing machine, used once as a defense attorney argued a rape case, was ``a humorous comment.''

Also among the 11 allegations, the complaint said Schapiro used profane language, threw a stack of paperwork on a desk and berated a public defender who asked for a continuance. Schapiro denied those accusations.

Copyright 2001, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Fred Grimm

Published Sunday, December 9, 2001


No judgment for errant judges

An elected official named Joyce Julian was carted off to jail last week under humiliating circumstances. A deputy described her, on the arrest report, as ``extremely intoxicated and verbally combative.''

That concise phrase, for most elected officials, also would serve as an obituary for a public career. In the next dreadful campaign, those words would be echoed relentlessly in an opponent's attack advertisements.

But Joyce Julian holds one of the more novel elected offices. As a Broward County circuit judge, she holds what amounts to a lifetime appointment. Her arrest at a judicial conference at the Amelia Island Plantation early Dec. 1 may have engulfed her in shame and pathos, but it is unlikely that she will suffer consequences at the polls.

Voters don't punish judges, even for injudicious behavior. They can't. They lack the mechanism. Judges, even controversial judges, even outrageous judges, even incompetent judges, are rarely opposed in Broward. ``Extremely intoxicated and verbally combative'' will not show up in ads during her next election. Neither will an opponent. In the 2000 judicial elections, none of the incumbent Broward circuit or county judges faced an opponent. Twenty-nine incumbents were reelected -- including County Judge Robert Zack.

The Herald reported before the election that Zack was deeply in debt to a bail bondsman with business interests in the county court. That loan was very, very late showing up on the judge's financial disclosure forms. Yet, after weeks of bad publicity, the only attempt to knock Zack off the bench was a last-minute feint by a Miami-Dade County judge. The challenger was shunned by the Broward legal establishment. And the courts noticed that she had not resigned from her job in Miami-Dade. By election day, Zack found himself unopposed. His reelection was automatic. As usual.

In the last 27 years, only six incumbent judges have been challenged in Broward.

Among those unopposed last election was County Judge Zebedee Wright, who, since his last election had been reprimanded by the Florida Supreme Court for ``rude, abusive and insulting'' behavior in the courtroom. In 1992, this same judge -- consistently ranked near the bottom of the county bar's judicial ratings -- sentenced a defendant convicted on weapons charges to contribute $300 to a particular charity. The charity, by the way, was an organization raising money to build a statue of Judge Wright's late wife.



But the statue, the ratings, the Supreme Court reprimand were never an issue with the voters. The choice was Zebedee Wright or a blank ballot.

In 1992, Broward Circuit Judge J. Leonard Fleet responded to a threat from a defendant in his courtroom by pulling out his .38-caliber revolver and muttering back, ``There's one bullet in the cylinder. Do you want to take your best shot? If you're going to take a shot, you better score, because I don't miss.''

Some voters might have found the judge's words thrilling. Others probably agreed with the state Supreme Court, which issued a tough-worded reprimand. We'll never know which voting bloc was in the majority. Next election, Judge Fleet was unopposed.



In October, Circuit Judge Barry Goldstein added to his long list of courtroom embarrassments when he ordered a retarded, profoundly disturbed child into juvenile detention, to the horror of child advocates. Judge Goldstein, Broward's king of contempt of court citations, had once banished a postal worker from his courtroom for wearing her postal uniform that included shorts.

Broward voters, however, rarely get an opportunity to pass judgment on judges. Though, in truth, it doesn't seem to matter much to them. Last fall, voters rejected a proposal to forgo these meaningless elections and fill judges through a merit appointment process. Incumbents kept their lifetime appointment.

Judge Julian's problems, splashed across the newspapers, only look career-threatening. But it takes more than a misdemeanor arrest for rowdy behavior to endanger a judge's career. Broward's legal establishment simply does not suffer challenges to incumbent judges, even to its most vulnerable judges. The judge, no matter how injudicious, can keep her job forever.


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Copyright 2001 Miami Herald


Published Saturday, November 3, 2001


Checks, balances big in judge races

What does it take to be a circuit court judge in Broward County?

A. A law degree from an Ivy League university.

B. Years of trial experience.

C. At least $100,000 in disposable income.

If you answered A, just ask the ``Nova Mafia,'' the affectionately described horde of Broward judges and politicians who graduated from Nova Southeastern University Law School in Davie.

If you answered B, recall last year's election of Marcia Beach, who had never tried a case in a courtroom.

If you answered C, you're onto something.

Four candidates running for open circuit court seats have deposited $65,000 to $80,000 of their own money in their campaign accounts -- more than a year before the 2002 election.

Traffic magistrate Michael Orlando, civil trial lawyer John Bowman, medical malpractice attorney David Krathen and former prosecutor Hope Tieman Bristol dropped the money on the advice of their judicial campaign consultant, Tony Gargiulo.

The candidates plan to raise $150,000 to $200,000, of which at least half will come from their own pockets, Gargiulo said.

``They have goals for each quarter, and if they don't make it, they put in their own money,'' he said. ``They're all successful lawyers.''

I'll say.

Gargiulo said self-financing campaigns allows candidates time to meet voters. Which brings us to:

D. The ability to win a beauty/popularity contest.

Judicial candidates aren't allowed to talk about issues or how they might handle a particular case. So voters are forced to make choices based on superficial impressions and name recognition. They might consider the candidates' professional experience, but don't forget about B.

The practice of essentially buying your way onto the bench is nothing new in Broward County. It's one of the best investments out there, since once elected, judges are rarely challenged. Many times candidates and incumbents never even spend the money in their campaign accounts, just temporarily dumping it there to intimidate potential opponents.

The difference this year is that the check writing started earlier than usual, partly because four judicial seats are open at once.

Florida had a chance to do away with this system last year, but voters overwhelmingly opposed switching to ``merit selection'' in which the governor would appoint judges. The outcome was understandable, considering the public's reluctance to give away the power to vote.

Unfortunately, the power of the purse is what really counts.

Beth Reinhard is The Herald's Broward political writer. Call her at 954-527-8419, fax her at 954-527-8955 or e-mail her at

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