Judge Larry Seidlin Slithers Away

Well, former Judge Larry Seidlin solicited gifts from an attorney in his courtroom and chiseled an elderly widow living in his condo building out of nearly half a million dollars -- and it looks like he's going to get away with it.

The Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office, while not exactly exonerating the judge who became famous as the rambling, blubbering judge in the Anna Nicole Smith case, decided not to charge him with any crimes. Instead prosecutors are referring the case -- which they wrote "could appear to raise ethical issues" -- to the Judicial Qualifications Commission and Florida Bar.

JAABlog has posted the 11-page close-out memo which you can read here (it makes small mention of your Pulp host).

I knew when I broke the story about Seidlin's relationship with the widow -- and the gifts he solicited from defense attorney (and former friend) Chris Roberts -- that there was a good chance he would walk. But I thought the amount he'd gotten from 82-year-old Barbara Kasler, an aging widow in his building, was more like a quarter million. Not the $467,000 discovered by Assistant State Atorney Howard Rosen during his investigation. 

The judge and his family, via their young daughter Dax, ingratiated themselves with Kasler -- and soon she was writing giant checks to them, handing over land, and paying more than 50 grand for Dax's education at Pine Crest School. Rosen wrote that Kasler was not unduly influenced to give the money, but it has all the markings of an expert fleecing.

I spoke with Kasler last year -- and this is what I wrote in the original story on the matter:

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 knew there were cash gifts -- just not how much. Rosen found that Kasler gave six-year-old Dax $52,000 alone. Another $286,430 was handed to Seidlin's wife, Belinda Seidlin. About $51,000 went to his in-laws, Oren and Barbara Ray. And that Pine Crest tab topped $54,000. Kasler handed out at least another $13,000 in cash.

Understand that while his family was accepting Kasler's largesse, Seidlin was a judge in the probate division where estates are hashed out. He should have known better -- and apparently he did.

Notice anything peculiar? Of all that money, none was paid directly to Larry Seidlin himself, even though his mother-in-law told me that he was like a son to her and drove her all over town and made sure she was delivered three meals a day.

Rosen determined, though, that Seidlin benefitted directly from the payments (Kasler paid off a $130,000 mortgage he held with his wife, for instance).  

Why didn't Seidlin accept the payments? Why, he'd have to report them on his financial disclosure forms. Seidlin of course never reported them -- which kept his family's getting rich off the widow a secret. He also failed to file a required public disclosure form after he retired, according to Rosen. All of this should be forwarded not to the JQC or Bar but the Florida Ethics Commission, which has jurisdiction over these matters.

Rosen also investigated Chris Roberts' allegation that Seidlin directed him to buy a purse for his wife's birthday and a shirt for him  while the judge was giving him assignments in his courtroom. Again, Rosen didn't file criminal charges, though he's referring those cases to the JQC and Bar as well.

Roberts, who was once one of Seidlin's close friends, has always said that it was Seidlin's exploitation of the widow that prompted him to (very reluctantly) come forward. And the state's decision not to charge him on that score was what he found most disagreeable.

"He ingratiated himself to the widow and got everything he could from her," says Roberts. "He should have known better. This is a judge now. They're forwarding the case to the JQC and the Bar, but they'll do nothing. Not only is he going to get his $150,000 a year for life in pension but he's got a half million from the old lady. Good racket, huh?"

Speaking of rackets, "Lightning Larry" was famous for his flying through his rocket dockets in the mornings to play tennis every single day at the Jimmy Evert Tennis Center in Holiday Park. Channel 7's Carmen Cafero followed him in May 2007 and found that he took three-hour lunch breaks, rarely worked more than an hour in the afternoons, and, yes, got his racket going every afternoon on the courts.

That's not even getting into his nepotism, his making a mockery of Broward County during the absurd Anna Nicole Smith hearings, and other antics. (By the way, another local lawyer told me Seidlin solicited gifts from him, too, but swears he'll never come forward about it).

It all adds up to a huge joke -- and business as usual in our corrupt county.

"That's life, that's life in Broward County," says Roberts. "And you know what? If the guy ran for reelection, he'd be reelected."

Not funny, but true.

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman