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Seven lawyers’ groups representing minorities and women are calling for Broward County judges to undergo training to be more sensitive toward black and Hispanic defendants.
Representatives of the Cuban, Hispanic, Haitian, Caribbean, Asian Pacific, black and women’s bar associations met with Broward Chief Judge Dale Ross last week to air their concerns. In one case cited at the meeting, Circuit Judge Lawrence Korda insisted that a battered wife seeking a restraining order speak in English instead of her native Spanish.
“She doesn’t need any translation,” Korda said at the Dec. 1, 2005, hearing. “She has been here 19 years. She’s watched ¿Qué Pasa, U.S.A.? for 15.”
He later apologized.
Thursday’s meeting between minority leaders and Ross came two days before The Miami Herald reported that Broward County Judge Lee Seidman repeatedly asked traffic court defendants whether they were here illegally. In at least one 2003 case, Seidman turned over to law enforcement an illegal immigrant who came to court for a traffic ticket.
“These are not isolated instances,” Cori Lopez-Castro, president of the Cuban-American Bar Association, said Monday. “There is a problem in Broward County with judges not being culturally sensitive… . Things have to change.”
Ross said Monday that he favored sensitivity training and would seek funding.
“We’re a very diverse community,” he said. “I think [the training] would be another tool that judges could use.”
In the domestic violence case cited by minority leaders last week at their meeting with Ross, Judge Korda addressed a plaintiff in Spanish after the court interpreter had left.
“After 19 years, you don’t speak any English?” he asked. “Please, it’s a lot of time to learn a little English.”
She responded in Spanish: “I speak it. I understand, but not perfectly.”
Korda said in Spanish: “In this case, you will speak in English after 19 years.”
Korda did grant her request, extending a restraining order against her husband for 30 days. But the woman’s attorney, Kathleen Achille, said she felt mistreated.
Last year, a complaint was filed against County Judge Leonard Feiner for saying of the courthouse cleaning crew: “The people that — that they hire may live in hovels, but they don’t have to leave courtrooms and the places they work looking like a slum.” The Judicial Qualifications Commission did not find probable cause of racial bias.
Allegations that Circuit Judge Eileen O’Connor failed to disclose bias complaints in her judicial application are still before the commission.
(Posted on March 15, 2006)