History Made, First Woman and First Hispanic Named Chief Judge of Miami Dade County

Saturday, March 23rd, 2013
Chief Judge Bertila Soto

First Woman, First hispanic

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.

Another Win for the First Amendment and photojournalist Carlos Miller

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

Another not guilty for PhotoJournalist Carlos Miller and the first amendment.   Click here for a link to videos from the trial.   Mr. Miller was arrested for videotaping an arrest during the Occupy Miami protests.  He was documenting the eviction of protesters from the Government Center when he was arrested and charged with Obstruction of Justice.  The case should have never gone to trial.  The case should have been dismissed in advance of trial.  For some reason the case was prosecuted.  My job is not to judge the reasons for the prosecution but to defend the prosecution.  I was fortunate enough to get a rare insight at what the jury was thinking.  The jury foreperson approached me after the verdict in parking lot.  She explained the decision was influenced in large part by  Glen Garvin, our defense witness.  Glen Garvin, a Miami Herald columnist,  was present on the night of Mr Millers arrest.   According to the Jury Foreperson his testimony was critical because it gave the jury an understanding of the chaos and confusion that night.  Despite the confusion on the night of the incident there was no question in the jury’s mind that Mr. Miller was not guilty.

Another NOT GUILTY in a DUI trial

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

Last week our firm obtained a not guilty verdict on a DUI case.  Mr. G.L. was arrested by the Doral police department and charged with DUI.  He was arrested for a crime he did not commit.  He was stopped by a female officer without probable cause.  The officer did not video tape the stop as is required by Department policy.  A second officer conducted the roadside DUI exercises.  However the defendant’s DUI testing wasn’t video taped either. The defendant testified and evidence of his back and knee injuries were presented to the jury.  The jury was left without any evidence and a whole lot of reasonable doubt.  However, reasonable doubt didn’t carry the day.  Preparation, Precise cross examinations, compelling closing arguments and a genuine belief in a clients innocence is a perfect recipe for success in a DUI defense.  Congratulations G.L.  Justice was served.  Judge Dawn Denaro was the presiding judge and gave a very fair and balanced trial for both sides.  As a former prosecutor her understanding of the rules of evidence and procedure was never in question.

Judge Margarita Esquiroz passes

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

Margarita Esquiroz, a great woman, jurist and person died today.   I had the honor of meeting this great woman some years ago. The moment I met her I knew I was in the presence of greatness.  Have you ever met someone and were immediately overcome with feelings awe and respect?  A professional crush? Margarita was the embodiment of everything I grew up wanting to be and emulate.  That’s what happened to me some years ago when I met Judge Esquiroz.  Today is a day of morning for all of us who practice law.  The only thing greater than Judge Margarita Esquiroz is the legacy and example she leaves for the rest of us.  She will be missed.  God bless you and thank you for blazing a trail for women, Cuban Americans and everyone who practices law with class and distinction.


Defendant in Attempted First Degree Murder gets lessers

Sunday, March 25th, 2012

Defendant Kenneth Foy went to trial on two counts of first degree attempted premeditated murder. There were three eye witnesses who testified Mr Foy shot two people in mid daylight at Arthur May Villas in south Miami Dade County. After a week of trial the jury came back with convictions for Attempted involuntary manslaughter and aggravated battery. The jury verdict was a bitter sweet win for our firm. The cross examinations by Arnold Trevilla were very effective and the closing argument given by Mr. Lavandera was very persuasive. The judge, a former training attorney for the Miami Dade State Attorneys office and former constitutional law professor, gave us a very fair trial. Samantha Ruiz-Cohen is a new judge but  very knowledgeable . Her understanding of the rules of evidence was far superior to that of anyone in the courtroom. Thats the way it should be.  The judge should know the rules of evidence better than anyone else in the courtroom.


The jury was another story. The jury cleary didn’t understand very basic principles of civics and constitutional law.   The jury could not grasp the presumption of innocence.  A very basic tenant of constitutional law was lost upon this jury panel.   The jurys first question five minutes after they retired to deliberate was: “where was the defendant on the night of the shooting? Did they not remember what the judge, the state and the defense had been telling them for almost a week?  He doesn’t have to testify and does not have to present any evidence. The jury also wanted to know about the defendants criminal history.  Obviously this was a bad jury panel; Not the first time it happens.

The lesson learned here is no matter how innocent a person may be or weak the states case is “YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT A JURY WILL DO.” Every time one goes to trial its a roll of the dice. Trials are a risky endeavor. You just never know.  The most important thing in the trial for a defendant is having a good jury.  If you have a bad jury they will convict a hamburger.  A jury is like the f0undation of a house.  If you have a bad foundation the house will crumble no matter how well the rest of it is put together.

Judge will be Missed.

Saturday, January 21st, 2012

Judge Julio Jimenez died this past week.  He was a good man and a good Jurist.  My wife and I both tried cases before him.  One thing you can say about Julio is he gave a great trial.  If you lost it usually wasn’t a good thing for your client but at least your client was treated fairly, and with respect.  Rest in Peace.  You will be missed.



Monday, January 3rd, 2011

Judge Darrin Gayles was appointed by Governor Charlie Christ to the 11th circuit court bench. I am proud to say that I had the honor of being assigned to his courtroom as a public defender when he was first appointed to the county court bench. I can’t say enough about Gayles but ill start with this:Judge Gayles is kind, caring, considerate, and judicious all at the same time. He brings much needed perspective and compassion to the Circuit Court. In the 11th Circuit we are blessed to have many good judges. But the great ones, well those are few. I believe that Judge Gayles will be as great on the circuit bench as he he was on the county court. Good luck and congratulations.


Monday, April 26th, 2010

Judges should get involved when they have the power to do so and when it’s the right thing to do irrespective of who the victims are.  Now sometimes judges cannot get involved because the criminal guidelines do not allow them to get involved.  Im not talking about those scenarios.  I’m talking about situations where guidelines are not at issue.  As lawyers, defense or state,  we learn over the years the value of a case.  What it’s worth in terms of punishment. Its very subjective but the funny thing is that if you get a group of seasoned criminal lawyers in one room I bet they would be off by months when valuing a case in terms of what the punishment should be. So why don’t judges get involved more often? Politics.  Plain and simple.  Judges are elected in Miami Dade.  A judge maybe afraid of stepping on  victims shoes, political fallout, making one side unhappy or just because of sheer inexperience. Fear is an unattractive attribute to have as a judge.   It just isn’t sexy. Some of the better Judges in the 11th circuit criminal court in Miami Dade are: Judge BERTILA SOTO, WILLIAM THOMAS, SAMANTHA RUIZ-COHEN,  ROSA RODRIGUEZ, NUSHIN SAFIE, IVAN FERNANDEZ, REEMBERTO  DIAZ,  DIANE WARD,  DARYL  TRAWICK, ELLEN SUE VENZER, LUISE KRIEGER  MARTIN,   SAM SLOAM and JORGE CUETO to name a few.  These are Judges with perspective, who can run their courtrooms effectively, who you dont want to play loose and fast with and have the character makeup to make the tough decisions.  Now if a defendant is lucky enough to get in front of one of these judges he should also bring with him a seasoned, experienced lawyer who #1 knows the judge and #2 is able to make the legal and factual arguments that will be persuasive.   Who your lawyers is can make a big difference.  Sometimes a judge may not get involved because he isn’t aware that legally he can.  A good lawyer will know his case, know his judge and know what arguments will work best.  So pick your lawyer wisely, trust him or her and hope you’re in a courtroom where the judge gets involved.


Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

Today my client was set for trial.  The charge was trespass.  I was ready for trial with witnesses and all, when the case was called up the state called out for it’s witnesses.  I was pretty confident at this point because the state usually doesn’t call out for its witnesses when they have all checked in.  However my heart sank when from the back of the courtroom the two state witnesses, who happened to be Miami Beach Police Officers,  stated they had just arrived.  The witnesses walk up to the front of the courtroom and the state asks…..(ARE YOU READY FOR THIS?)…the state asks “do you have the marijuana?”  The officers,  puzzled, look at the state and say no.  “State Announces a NOLLE PROSSE!”  I grabbed my client and practically dragged him out of the courtroom.   They NOLLE PROSSED it because the Officers forgot to bring the marijuana to trial.  Remember my client is on trial for Trespass.  Anyway, im not complaining.  Next week when my aggravated assault case gets called up for trial and the state announces ready i will a ask, “well…do you have the marijuana?”

LOL.  A day in the life a criminal defense attorney in Miami Dade.


Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

a picture tells a thousand words

Congratulations to my friend and client Carlos Miller at Carlosmiller.com for being in the race for the best blog in South Florida. He is at number two at this moment, right behind the Miami Dolphins blog. Wow. What an accomplishment.