The judgeship is one of the oldest, most necessary community posts in history. Judges are expected to be unbiased, clear-minded, and just to the core. Running for a judge's seat is a sacred honor for aspiring public servants. Utilizing the democratic process for a judgeship for private gain is poisonous to the legitimacy of any authority.
Cole Scott & Kissane, a corporate firm with 400 attorneys operating from 11 offices throughout Florida, is a defense firm for businesses facing civil lawsuits—slip and fall cases, car accident claims, workplace discrimination claims, and others. If you or someone you know has ever considered filing a lawsuit, Cole Scott & Kissane is one of the firms likely to be fighting against you.
Cole Scott & Kissane is doing something poisonous to the legal system of Miami—purposeful or not.
Pursuit of Dangerous Precedent
Judge David Miller has been a Miami circuit court judge for nearly 20 years, and prior to that he had a 20-year career as a civil and criminal trial lawyer. Judge Miller and Cole Scott & Kissane have had numerous path-crossings, sometimes not to the defense firm's advantage. Judge Miller, who ran for his seat on the promise to crack down on trial court delays and abuses of the court system, once harshly criticized Cole Scott attorneys for violating their oath to truth and honor. According to the transcript, he noted that one of the lawyers should be reported to the Bar.
Now, Cole Scott is moving to have Judge Miller disqualified from all 27 of the firm's cases he currently presides over.
Fighting the Judge as a Candidate
How can Cole Scott possibly justify having a veteran of the bench removed from more than two dozen cases?
Because a recently-promoted partner at Cole Scott & Kissane has announced her candidacy for Judge Miller's seat—and now the firm wants him removed under the presumption that he cannot rule fairly against the firm whose partner is running against him.
Attorney Gary Fox has been a vocal critic of what seems to him a naked manipulation of the legal system. The September 2018 issue of Florida Trend Magazine quotes Mr. Fox regarding the recusal case:
"Cole Scott has attempted to manipulate our system of justice and remove from its case a judge whom it doesn't like...The potential for abuse is just so obvious. There are a lot of monster law firms around the country—with 500 lawyers, 1,000, 2,000, even 3,000 lawyers. If they're involved in a piece of high-stakes litigation and the trial judge is making rulings that they don't like, the big fear is that all the law firm has to do is pick out one of its lawyers to jump in the race."
The Case Is Climbing Its Way Upward
The initial request to have Miller removed from more than two dozen cases was denied by Miller himself at first. Cole Scott then appealed to the 3rd District Court of Appeals, who also denied the motion. They ruled that the candidacy of a partner did not "overcome the presumption" that a judge will not be biased against an attorney who may have opposed his or her appointment to the judgeship. Cole Scott is continuing to pursue the creation of a dangerous precedent—they've taken their appeal to full 10-judge appellate panel, the final legal barrier before the case reaches the Florida Supreme Court.
Our opposition to such a cynical tactic is both practical and principled—judges need to be able to do their jobs without the existential threat that 1,000-attorney firms might present to their appointment. Allowing a defense firm to wield the democratic process against judges it doesn’t like is unethical and deeply damaging—regardless of Miller’s opponent’s sincerity or public service ambitions.While the case is still pending, the story (for now) has a happy ending—Judge Miller won re-election only two days ago!