In the Bag

Judge Seidlin heads off to la-la land with collateral damage to his image

So Judge Larry Seidlin, of Anna Nicole Smith fame, has quit the Broward County Courthouse to go off to Hollywood to develop a TV show.

South Florida should rejoice.

It´s not so much that the 57-year-old Seidlin was a bad judge; it was that he wasn´t much of a judge at all. He is, in fact, a shining example of the dim era ruled by outgoing Chief Judge Dale Ross, who pretty much let judges do as they pleased so long as they bowed at his feet.

So, other than drag the country though a needless and absurd Anna Nicole hearing/screen test, what did Seidlin do?

Well, as almost everyone at the courthouse can tell you, flying through dockets in the morning and playing tennis in the afternoon was his M.O. But what few know is that he also allegedly had time to wrangle gifts out of at least one lawyer working in his division and a small fortune from an elderly woman living in his ocean-view condo building on Las Olas Boulevard.

We´ll start with the woman.

Picture if you will the now-nationally recognizable bald and well-tanned Seidlin carrying a plate of breakfast down the elevator of the Marine Tower to the third floor and knocking on a door with his offering. Then imagine an 81-year-old woman opening the door with a smile and gratefully accepting the meal.

Now add lunch and dinner and throw in trips to the doctor and the hair salon and you might start to understand what Seidlin has been doing for years for Barbara Kasler, a wealthy neighbor with no living family but an older sister.

¨All of her sons passed away,¨ explains Seidlin´s mother-in-law, Barbara Ray. ¨So we took over and help her and do things with her. She takes all kinds of trips with Larry in Fort Lauderdale. She´s like a mother to him, she adores him, that´s like her little boy.

¨He even takes her to the hairdresser. He is adorable. That´s what people don´t know about him.¨

But Seidlin´s good deeds haven´t gone unrewarded. The judge and his family have garnered a small fortune from Kasler, who is in poor health and says she suffers memory lapses.

Kasler sold Seidlin´s in-laws a 17th-floor condo in the building for what was, based on comparable sales in the building, a bargain price of $300,000 (a similar unit sold later that year for $440,000). Then she deeded over a vacant lot in Palm Bay, in coastal Central Florida, to Seidlin´s wife, Belinda, for $100. It´s assessed at $45,000 today but is probably worth more. The elderly woman is also paying for Seidlin´s daughter´s education at the exclusive Pine Crest School. Six-year-old Dax has already spent two years at the school at an estimated cost of about $35,000.

On top of that, the judge has been enjoying privileges as Kasler´s guest at the Lauderdale Yacht Club.

I wanted to ask Seidlin about the windfall from the widow, but he had his lawyer, prominent defense attorney David Bogenschutz, contact me.

¨This is an elderly woman who is apparently lonely and has no family and has been reverse-adopted by the Seidlin family,¨ Bogenschutz told me. ¨That may be a lot of money, but I look at this as: What business is it of anybody else´s if it has nothing to do with his public persona?¨

Well, Seidlin happened to run the probate and family divisions at the courthouse before his resignation, so he should know better than to chisel money out of an old woman.

But is he really exploiting Kasler, or is he just being rewarded for good deeds?

That would depend on the content of his character, and, believe me, Seidlin is one hell of a character. I´ve spoken with numerous lawyers at the courthouse, and the picture that emerges of Seidlin is of a man who doesn´t like to work, has spent almost as much time on the tennis court as in a courtroom during his 29 years as a judge, doesn´t like to pay for anything, and usually finds an angle to benefit himself. In other words, he´s a guy who might just find a way to get some serious dough out of an elderly woman.

Some of the stories I´ve heard are humorous, some serious. The one about the Louis Vuitton purse is a bit of both.

It begins with veteran attorney Lawrence ¨Chris¨ Roberts walking through courthouse corridors about four years ago. Seidlin at the time was regularly appointing Roberts as a special public defender in the juvenile court, which paid the lawyer $350 a case.

It was actually lucrative work, especially in the courtroom of ¨Lightning Larry,¨ who was known to speed through cases in the morning so he wouldn´t have to work in the afternoon.

When Roberts saw Seidlin on this day, the judge slapped him on the hand, transferring a small piece of paper. Roberts looked in his hand, he says, and found a tag for a Louis Vuitton purse at Neiman Marcus that cost in excess of $1,000.

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