Last week I had breakfast with Circuit Court judge candidate Maxine Cheesman. We met at one of my favorite breakfast places, Rancheritos de Boca in Somerset Shoppes. Cheesman is running for an open seat (there is no incumbent) and we previously interviewed the other two candidates for the same spot, Jaimie Goodman and Peggy Rowe-Linn.
We like the other two, and Cheesman also made a strong impression. A few things stand out about her. First, she has a science background which is very rare among attorneys and judges. Cheesman not only has a B.S, but also a Master’s degree in Chemistry from the University of Miami. She applied that knowledge working for the South Florida Water Management District for 15 years.
Another thing that stood out is her commitment to pro bono service, providing free legal services to the less fortunate. She won the 2012 “And Justice for All Award” from Palm Beach County Legal Aid Society. In our conversation her pro bono work came up again and again.
When we interview judge candidates we ask why the person wants to be a judge. One common answer we don’t like is that they “want to give back.” Getting a $142K job with power is not giving back. Doing pro bono work, as Ms. Cheesman has done, is.
Giving back was not her answer. She talked about fairness, and making sure people get a fair judge. I asked her about what qualities she admires in judges and one thing she said again stood out – patience.
Courts today are driven by pressures to be efficient. When it’s your case, efficiency is not important. Fairness is what matters. A judge focused on efficiency is less likely to be patient and I’ve seen that in my work in courtrooms. This is the first time I remember a judge candidate mentioning patience and that really impressed me.
At this point we are very impressed with all three candidates we’ve met for this seat, and we don’t think we’re going to make an endorsement.
Now that we’ve met with Cheesman the politics of the race are even more interesting. As we mentioned in our previous articles, Rowe-Linn grew up in West Palm Beach. Her campaign tends to appeal to north county voters and Florida natives. Goodman touts that he’s from New York and his appeal seems to work best among south county voters and especially those who are not from here. His office is in West Palm Beach.
Cheesman is the third leg of the triangle. She was born in Jamaica, though she’s been in South Florida for 30 years or more. Like the other three she is based in West Palm Beach, which makes sense for Palm Beach County lawyers as that’s where the main courthouse is. We chose to base ourselves in West Boca because it’s convenient to all three counties in South Florida.
From a partisan perspective Rowe-Linn is more likely to draw Republican votes while Goodman and Cheesman will split the Democrat vote. That might seem like an advantage to Rowe-Linn, but the August primary election will draw more Democrats out to vote because of the Democratic primary for Governor. We’re not aware of any significant Republican primary races in August.
For her part Cheesman of course hopes to impress likely voters of all stripes, but she also will try to bring out people who don’t ordinarily vote in elections like this one. Elections in August have much lower turnout than ones in November.
We should also mention that we met with Jessica Ticktin back in May. She’s running against incumbent Judge Diana Lewis, who has not responded to our requests for an interview.