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Court Jesters

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The current frontrunner to take over Ross´ brown office, Judge Thomas M. Lynch IV, 56, the administrative judge of the civil division and a former chief assistant public defender, won´t do much to change anything, says Howard Finkelstein, the public defender. ¨It is obvious to everyone that Tom [Lynch] is hand-in-glove with Dale Ross,¨ Finkelstein says. ¨It will not be the people who brought us here who can take us away from it. It´s got to be a fresh face. It can´t be anyone already part of the judicial administration, which has brought us to this place.¨

Finkelstein, 53, a recovering cocaine addict, was elected public defender in 2004 and has been making waves ever since. ¨They hate me,¨ he says of Ross and others in judicial administration. ¨I think that what frustrates the bejeepers out of them because in their world, it´s tit for tat is that in my world, it is, Do the right thing as the situation calls for it.´ Personality and politics never enter into it. That´s what true believers believe.¨

Finkelstein´s not alone. A growing number of private defense attorneys are on his side, including Gelin, the blogger. Gelin and Finkelstein have more in common than their graying ponytails: They both truly believe that Ross presides over a broken system and that change must come, and sweepingly.

¨We´re just saying the same things that have been said around the halls of the courthouse every day for years,¨ Gelin says. ¨These guys just get so caught up in themselves and their power and position. This place is so sick. It wants to be cured. You couldn´t invent the stuff that´s been going on here... These judges are misbehaving, acting so infantile. It´s amazing that they´re doing this stuff.

¨Have these people lost all connection to the community or their role in it?¨

And who is Gelin to be saying this?

¨I´m somebody with a license to practice law in Florida, so they [have] to hear it,¨ he says. ¨Lawyers need to take a stand for what´s right. You can effect positive change.¨

Some say Gelin and Finkelstein are already doing it.

¨In the last eight months, these two guys with ponytails have changed more around here than in the past 20 years,¨ says Marshall E. Williams, an insider at the Broward County Courthouse who has also served on the Judicial Nominating Commission. ¨It´s time.¨

Ross says he prefers constructive criticism of the one-on-one variety. In fact, talking to just Ross, it can be easy to forget all of the synchronistic happenings that have shaped the current state of the county´s judiciary.

¨I found out something about myself a few years ago,¨ Ross says. ¨People who don´t know me tend not to like me. But people who know me really, really like me. It seems it´s easier to maybe stand off and criticize a person when they don´t know them. It´s like, wow where do they get these things? But the issue is, first of all, obviously Dale Ross has no influence when it comes to who´s on the bench. If you then want to credit me as having some input on the selection of judges... but I don´t accept that premise.

¨JNC members, very independent. I don´t think anybody can tell those members who to nominate. They do go through due diligence; they do call members of the community, and they seek input. If you want to credit me with the JNC members with valuing my opinion but I think you´re giving me too much credit.¨

Then Ross points to recent appointments of Hispanic and black lawyers to the bench. ¨It´s gotta work both ways,¨ he says. ¨I either believe in diversity or I don´t. Maybe it´s neither of the above. If you want to give Dale Ross credit, it goes both ways.¨

That´s Dale Ross on Dale Ross in the third person. Why does he do that?

¨I don´t know,¨ Ross says, hesitating. ¨You´d have to ask a psychologist. I can´t answer that question.¨

But then he does.

¨Maybe because Dale Ross the human being and the judge are different,¨ he hazards. ¨I love being a judge. I´d do it for free. But I´m separate and apart from being a judge. I´m not presumptuous. I don´t think largely of myself. I don´t know I´m not a psychologist.¨

Finkelstein, Gelin, and others think they know the answer to this question.

¨I think he talks that way because he´s an arrogant, pompous guy,¨ says Gelin, who was assigned to Ross´ courtroom when he was an assistant public defender five years ago. ¨He thinks he´s larger-than-life and strolling the Earth amongst the mortals, and that´s the worst kind of attitude a public servant can have. A megalomaniac. When I was his staff public defender in the juvenile division, I saw some of the most outrageous behavior. And he´s setting the example.¨

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Kelly Cramer

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