We Endorse Jessica Ticktin for Circuit Judge

West Boca News endorses Jessica Ticktin for Circuit Court Judge. Ms. Ticktin is running against the incumbent Hon. Diana Lewis.
There are a few reasons for our endorsement. The most compelling of those is the incumbent’s record. The Palm Beach County Bar Association evaluates judges based on several factors. Lawyers in the county have consistently rated Judge Lewis the worst in the county.
Here are the 2013 ratings for Judge Lewis:
A substantial majority of the lawyers responding rated her poorly for “Judicial Demeanor & Courtesy to Lawyers,” by far the worst. Half the judges in the county are rated “needs improvement” on that factor by single digits. 147 lawyers gave her that rating. Only one other judge had half that many.
She had the worst ratings of the 34 circuit judges on most of the factors. You can see all of the Bar’s judge ratings for 2013 here:
[gview file=”https://westbocanews.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/2013-judge-evaluations.pdf”]
Strong pluralities also rated her poorly for impartiality, common sense, and enforcing professionalism. Put more bluntly, Judge Lewis on the bench is rude, biased, unprofessional, and lacking in common sense.
The Florida Constitution requires that judges face reelection. If that means anything it means that the worst judges should be voted out.
There’s another key reason for our endorsement. We met Jessica Ticktin, she impressed us, and we think she’ll make a good judge. We’re not alone. The Sun-Sentinel (“the steady, fair temperament she would bring to the Circuit Court bench”) and Palm Beach Post (“Ticktin’s experience and demeanor make her a more than capable replacement.”) both endorsed Ticktin.
Two other minor details deserve mention. First, Ticktin lives in West Boca. The legal community in this county tends to center on West Palm Beach. For those who live in West Boca, it doesn’t hurt to have a judge who knows our community.
Second, the incumbent’s campaign did not respond to our requests for an interview in West Boca. We were included on a mass e-mail campaign event invitation sent to people who had “expressed an interest in ReElect Judge Lewis,” but never received any response to our direct requests. One of our volunteer reporters, Jeff Van Treese, was able to attend the event in East Boca. Lewis did interview with him and made a favorable impression. Still the lack of response from the campaign for a more complete interview bothered us. All the other judicial candidates responded to our requests and agreed to meet with us in West Boca.
The election day for this race is August 26th, but early voting has already begun at the West Boca branch library on the west side of 441 north of Yamato.
We should also note that we are not making any endorsement in the other judicial race. We like all three of the candidates: Jaimie Goodman, Peggy Rowe-Linn, and Maxine Cheesman.

On the Campaign Trail with Circuit Court Judge Diana Lewis

Judge Lewis
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to interview Judge Diana Lewis, who is running for re-election for Palm Beach County Circuit Court, Group 14. She is currently a judge in the probate division and previously served in the foreclosure division. She was first elected in 2002 and has served for 11 years.
Her previous legal career consisted primarily of defense work in medical malpractice and products liability litigation. When asked why voters should choose her over her challenger, Jessica Ticktin, she stated that her experience as a judge and a litigator make her a stronger candidate. Judge Lewis did acknowledge that Ms. Ticktin possesses managerial experience in her administrative duties at a successful law firm and this skill set would have value should Ms. Ticktin become a judge. However, Judge Lewis contends that Ms. Ticktin does not have as much courtroom experience.
West Boca News had the opportunity to interview Ms. Ticktin earlier. When asked if she has aspirations beyond Palm Beach County Circuit Court, Judge Lewis was adamant that she is satisfied with her current post and has no thoughts of being appointed to a higher court. In fact, she stated that she enjoys presiding over trials and would not be interested in becoming an appellate judge.
When asked what is the most rewarding aspect of her job, Judge Lewis stated that helping those in a position of need at guardianship hearings gives her the greatest fulfillment. She also noted that her caseload has become more manageable since switching from foreclosures to probate, especially considering that she was a foreclosure judge at the height of the recession.
Judge Lewis has been a member of a number of community and professional organizations including the Forum Club and the Florida Bar Judicial Relations Committee.
The election is August 26.
Editor’s Note: Judge Lewis recently made news for ruling against the gay marriage ban in a probate case.

Maxine Cheesman: Judge Candidate

Maxine Cheesman at Rancheritos de Boca
Maxine Cheesman at Rancheritos de Boca

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.

Judicial Candidate: Jaimie Goodman

Yesterday I had lunch with Jaimie Goodman, one of three candidates for Circuit Court Judge, Group 30. We met at Bagel Works and spoke for over an hour about his career, why he wants to be a judge, and the politics of judicial elections.
One thing leapt out at me during our conversation. Questions others have raised about his experience are nonsense. This guy is an experienced trial lawyer. We talked in depth about some of the cases he’s handled over the years and he’s genuine and knowledgeable. In interviewing candidates who claim to be experienced litigators, we look for storytelling ability. A trial lawyer has to tell juries the story of the case. One of the bits of lawyer life others don’t know about is the moments when we’re sitting around a courtroom waiting for something. Lawyers do a lot of waiting. In those moments we tell each other “war stories” about cases we’ve handled. Goodman has plenty of those stories.
If he has a weakness, it’s specialization. Some lawyers are generalists, handling all kinds of cases. He’s the opposite. In his career Goodman has practiced almost exclusively in employment litigation. That’s a narrow field within the broader area of civil litigation.
That is a potential issue for Circuit Court. Over the course of a term, a circuit judge might handle a wide variety of cases including criminal, family law, probate, civil litigation, state and local tax disputes, and more. His experience is narrow, but it’s also deep. So while it’s something to consider it’s not a deal breaker.
As far as background and credentials, Goodman checks off a lot of the right boxes. He earned his Bachelor’s degree and law degree from Cornell University. He’s admitted to federal courts in both Florida and Michigan, including two federal circuits and the US Supreme Court. He’s a member of various bar associations, involved with community organizations, and he’s “AV” rated by Martindale-Hubbell.
The politics are interesting. This is Goodman’s third run for judge. He lost an open seat race in 2010, and a fairly close race against Judge Alvarez in 2012. That 2012 race means a lot. There is a terrible unwritten rule in the legal community that you’re not supposed to run against a sitting judge. The state Constitution mandates that judges have to run for reelection. It’s also hard. Sitting judges are also generally popular and hard to beat. Goodman took some heat for running against an incumbent, when he should be admired for swimming upstream.
You can look at those previous campaigns two ways: He lost twice so he must not be a great candidate; or he’s gotten valuable experience and gotten his name out there so that makes him a stronger candidate. Running close to a sitting judge is a sign of the latter.
One of the funny things about the campaign is a reflection of life in South Florida. Goodman mentions prominently in his campaign that he was born in Queens and went to school in upstate New York. We’re not sure but this might be the only place in the world where a candidate would feature that he’s from somewhere else.
There’s one big question we ask judge candidates: Why do you want to be a judge? No candidate yet has given us a good answer. Someday we’ll meet one who does.
We previously interviewed Peggy Rowe-Linn running for the same seat. We had lunch with her at the Original Pancake House in Somerset Shoppes. And before that we met with Jessica Ticktin at Panera in Mission Bay running for a different seat on the Circuit Court.
We have reached out to the other candidates in their races but have not received any response so far. If any of our readers has connections to the campaigns of Judge Diana Lewis or Maxine Dianne Cheesman, please let them know we’d be happy to meet with them in West Boca to talk about their campaigns. At this point we expect to make endorsements in both races. If we don’t hear from them, we will not consider them for endorsement.

Jessica Ticktin: A Judge Candidate from West Boca

We had the pleasure of meeting judicial candidate Jessica Ticktin this morning at the Mission Bay Panera. Ms. Ticktin grew up in greater Boca Raton and is a resident of West Boca (west of Jog near Yamato).
ticktin-familyShe spent three weeks with her first child at West Boca Medical Center and was very happy with their pediatric care and NICU facility. She and her husband are happily expecting their second child, also a boy. She told us the baby is due in June but his name is a closely guarded secret. They are regulars at places like Babies R Us and Home Depot, as well as Regency Court near their home. Her husband owns Boca Car Wash in East Boca, at the corner of Glades and Federal Highway. They are members of Temple B’nai Israel, which has a lot of West Boca members.
Ticktin faces one challenge male candidates rarely have to deal with – she’s pretty. While we were sitting in Panera an older and balding gentleman approached her out of the blue and offered to buy her hair from her. She handled it gracefully.
This race is one of the most interesting judicial races we’ve ever seen. There was a procedural dance lining up which candidate was running for which seat, partially documented by the Post on Politics. Here’s a summary as best we understand it (and we’re not sure we do):
Judge Diana Lewis currently sits as a Circuit Judge in “Group 14.” Ticktin filed to run for Group 14. Lewis then switched to Group 32 after a judge in that group retired. Ticktin switched from 14 to 32. At the last minute Lewis switched back to 14, and Ticktin filed to switch back to 14 a mere fifteen minutes later, with much of the drama playing out in Tallahassee.
Also in this dance was another candidate we recently interviewed, Samantha Schosberg Feuer, who is now the only candidate in Group 32. We will write more about the Group 14 race closer to the August 26th election date.
ticktin1In our meeting this morning Ticktin impressed us. She’s passionate about children and as a result has spent much of her career handling family law cases. Her academic and legal background are substantial. She’s a Boca High graduate with a B.S. from FSU and a law degree from Stetson. She’s a member of various bar associations and admitted to practice in three federal courts as well as the Florida Supreme Court. For four years she was managing partner of The Ticktin Law Group but stepped back from the managing role after her son was born.
As a judge she aims to control the courtroom while treating people with respect. Ticktin admires judges who are not afraid to “do the right thing.” She understands that a judge’s role is to resolve disputes, not to create them.
We haven’t formed any opinion on the race yet, and hope to hear soon from Judge Lewis about her experience.