Miami-Dade voters on Tuesday voted to keep four incumbent judges, while ushering in three new ones.
In the most bitterly contested race, longtime county judge Fred Seraphin, who was hit with ugly attack ads unusual for normally staid judicial races, easily defeated attorney Renier Diaz de la Portilla, who hails from a prominent Miami political family.
Seraphin, appointed in 2001, is Miami-Dade’s first Haitian-American judge. Diaz de la Portilla, a former Miami-Dade school board member, has now lost four straight campaigns.
In the other race marked by ethnic tension, incumbent Haitian-American Miami-Dade circuit judge Lody Jean handily bested challenger Teressa Maria (Tylman) Cervera, a white civil lawyer who was criticized for changing her last name to a Spanish surname shortly before running. In heavily Hispanic Miami, having a Spanish last name is widely seen as an advantage in judicial races in which voters know little about the candidates.
Miami’s Haitian elected leaders had rallied during the campaign, saying Jean and Seraphin were being targeted because of their ethnic background.
In the other races:
In Circuit Group 20, Circuit Judge Robert Watson, appointed in 2019 to the circuit bench, also cruised to a comfortable victory, beating civil attorney Brenda Guerrero.
▪ In County Group 42, challenger and Miami-Dade prosecutor Alicia Garcia Priovolos easily ousted Scott Janowitz, a former civil attorney appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis two years ago.
▪ In Circuit Court Group 52, incumbent Oscar Rodriguez-Fonts narrowly defeated challenger Jason Bloch, a former circuit judge. He won by a little over 1,600 votes. Rodriguez-Fonts got flak during the campaign for speaking at a breakfast for an anti-abortion organization the day after the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the nationwide constitutional right to abortions.
Judicial canons mandate judges and candidates avoid activities that could call into question their impartiality on a certain issue. Rodriguez-Fonts insisted that the breakfast was pre-planned and he did not speak about the issue of abortion.
▪ In Circuit Court Group 34, bankruptcy lawyer Ariel Rodriguez defeated incumbent Mark Blumstein by a little less than three percentage points.
▪ In County Group 19, Jeffrey Kolokoff, another 2020 DeSantis appointee, was bested by Lissette De la Rosa, an insurance defense litigator. She won by a little less than two percentage points.
This story was originally published August 23, 2022 9:08 PM.