Miami Legal Community Helps Launch Voter Education Program

, Daily Business Review

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The movers and shakers of Miami's legal community helped launch a national voter education project designed to maintain fair and impartial courts.

The Informed Voters-Fair Judges project is being led by the National Association of Women Judges. It was launched in response to targeted attacks by conservative groups on judges up for merit retention as well as moves in some states to replace merit retention votes with direct judicial elections.

A group called Restore Justice 2012 targeted three Florida Supreme Court justices as activists: R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince. One of the cases cited was a decision barring an advisory measure proposed by the Republican-controlled Legislature on Obamacare.

The legal community and The Florida Bar launched a voter education campaign in 2012, and the justices were retained.

A conservative group tied to the Tea Party claimed credit for ousting three Iowa Supreme Court justices in 2010, keying off their ruling in favor of same-sex marriage. "Iowans for Freedom" was a project of the conservative nonprofit group Family Leader.

Florida is taking the lead in the new national campaign.

At Wednesday's kickoff event hosted by Akerman at its Miami office, Pariente addressed a group of about 50 of Miami's legal power elite by videoconference. A video by former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor also was shown.

"We knew attacks were real," Pariente said. "Although we successfully fought off attacks ... we saw others going on throughout the country. It's one thing to do something in Florida ... but it behooves us to have a national coalition fighting this."

The group will seek to partner with local legal groups like the Cuban American Bar Association, the Florida Association for Women Lawyers and the Wilkie D. Ferguson Jr. Bar Association as well as civic organizations and companies to increase voter education about the need for judicial independence. A social media campaign and public service announcements are also planned.

Among those in attendance at the kickoff event were Third District Court of Appeal Judge Frank Shepherd; Miami-Dade Circuit Judges Bronwyn Miller, Celeste Muir and Marisa Tinkler Mendez; Miami-Dade Public Defender Carlos Martinez; Miami City Attorney Victoria Mendez; Maribel Balbin, president of the League of Women Voters of Miami-Dade County; and Alan Dimond of Greenberg Traurig.

"I think this is a wonderful idea," said Dimond, who sits on the American Bar Association's standing committee on judicial independence. "There are enormously wealthy individuals in this country and, if you let them influence judicial elections, it can destroy our democracy."

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