Circuit Judge: Margherita Downey vs. James Martz

This may be the hottest countywide race in 2012. On the one hand we have sitting judge James Martz, who was appointed as a judge for over six years. He has a great resume but there are concerns.
On the other hand we have Margherita Downey. She also has a great resume but the main reason for her campaign appears to be her concerns about Martz.
The central issue is Martz and his temperament. There are two videos on YouTube showing Martz losing his composure on the bench.

These videos are fairly short and that has the potential to distort things. These could be rare moments of anger rather than a pattern.
There is a transcript that covers far more. See Martz Hearing PDF at the Post on Politics.
It’s hard to evaluate all of this, even for an experienced lawyer.
On the one hand, Martz clearly loses his composure twice. In the first incident it seems inappropriate. In the other, Downey interrupts Martz, telling him to “stop.” That is a completely inappropriate thing for an attorney to do and so it’s understandable that a judge would get upset. But it’s not clear who is correct on the legal and procedural issues.
There are quite a few things in the transcript that I did not like from Judge Martz.

Here Martz brings up a completely unrelated issue to the proceeding and appears to be baiting Downey. He also asserts that he “will always chastise lawyers in open court and never do it in private …”
I’ve been a trial lawyer for 16 years. Most judges, if they have a problem with a lawyer, will address it with the lawyer in private first.
He goes on:

Here Martz chastises Downey for “telling me how to do my job.” But that is exactly what lawyers are supposed to do. We argue not only substantive issues (who is right and who is wrong) but also procedural issues (what process should the court follow to get the case resolved).
It seems that one of the big underlying issues is that Martz wanted Downey and the other attorney to go out in the hallway and discuss discovery (both sides exchanging documents, other information, and setting up depositions where witnesses can be questioned). Downey was taking the position that she did not want to discuss discovery because she had motions pending.
In New York, such discussion is typically required before a motion is made, but not while pending. If Downey was convinced she’s correct, she shouldn’t be forced to talk to the other attorney about it. But I don’t know the Florida rules that well, and I don’t know the full context of this case.
It seems to me that a judge with a good temperament would simply instruct the parties to make their motions on paper and rule on them. But one also has to appreciate that judges are under intense workloads and this particular court – family court – is the most unpleasant of all of courts. It’s a tough job so it’s understandable that a judge would have a bad moment.
The Palm Beach Post endorsed Martz. In their editorial they refer to judicial evaluation results by the Palm Beach County Bar Association (pdf). Martz’s numbers aren’t the best, but they’re far from the worst. By these numbers his worst area seems to be an appearance of bias.
Most interesting from this evaluation are the very good results for Judge Ron Alvarez and the extremely negative reviews of Circuit Judge McCarthy (facing Jody Lane in another hot race) and County Judge Peter Evans (facing Kenneth Duane Lemoine), all up for reelection this year.
I was able to speak with Ms. Downey after the Tea Party event last night. She was personable and had great insights about the area courts. She has a lot of experience working with regular people dealing with the courts. Martz’ pre-judicial experience seems to be mostly having worked for governments and not for regular people.
Doing some searches on the web, there’s a minor smear campaign against Judge Martz. For example, I was wondering if Downey was behind this but it appears not – the site was created in 2010, before Downey had her conflict with him.
In the end, it seems like Martz is a reasonably good judge, and Downey would also be a reasonably good judge. Tough to make a decision on this one.

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