Yesterday history was made when the first woman and first Hispanic was invested as Chief Judge of the 11th Judicial Circuit. I had the great honor of appearing before Judge Bertila Soto. She is balanced, fair, inteligent and non emotional on the bench. Although she is a former prosecutor, she is fair to everyone. Her rise to chief judge was a quick one but merited. Judge Soto has the fortitude to take on any challenge. In the 11th Judicial Circuit we have many challenges. One of our greatest problems is the court appointed attorney system. The court appointed system for indigent defendants has been all but destroyed by budget cuts. Under the current system a criminal defendant charged with a first degree felony is more likely to receive subpar representation than a criminal defendant was 10 years ago. The Legislature has decided that $2500.00 is fair compensation for lawyer who accepts and defends a first degree felony punishable by life. What that means is that if a defendant is charged with first degree murder, and an attorney spends two years, 200 hours and goes to trial he/she will only be compensated $2500.00. No more. That same lawyer will only be paid $750.00 if he/she does the same work on a third degree felony. This has resulted in 90 percent of the lawyers opting out of the court appointed wheel system. The good lawyers are all gone and indigent defendants are swept under the rug as a casualty of our judicial fiscal crisis. Our system is in trouble and only time will tell what will happen to indigent defense throughout the State. Yet there is hope. I don’t know whats going to happen to all the poor defendants currently in custody awaiting trial on serious charges but I believe things will get better once our leaders in Tallahassee realize the mistakes that have made with the Judicial budget. At least we have Berdy. Judge Soto good luck. I’m certain the same qualities that helped you achieve so much so early in your career will help lead Miami Dade county to a brighter more hopeful future.
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