Although some in the legal community have pegged him an “easy mark,” vulnerable to being defeated, Judge Ian Richards’ record presents a solid defense in his bid for re-election. The 39-year-old jurist whose leap from the bench to defend a woman in his courtroom thrust him into the spotlight is being challenged by attorney Claudia Robinson in the Group 27 nonpartisan election for County Court Judge.
Richards points to his record to explain why he should be re-elected, spreading the credit for his effectiveness to his staff and the attorneys that worked in his courtroom. He said that a warning from an experienced judge that having 1100 cases would result in someone dying while waiting for trial prompted him to develop a more efficient approach to handling domestic violence cases in his courtroom.
“I started a process where we cut out continuances that were not necessary and set cases for trial. According to the constitution, you’re not only entitled to a fair trial, you’re also entitled to a speedy trial.”
As a result, Richards streamlined the domestic violence unit by lowering the active caseload countywide to under 500 cases and reducing the wait time for trial by almost half. In addition to making the system more effective, Richards said that his approach helps both victims and defendants to minimize serious disruptions to their lives.
“If you’re a mother with two children and you’re in domestic violence [court] and either side asks for one continuance, your boss may allow for you to come back to work with no problem. But you ask for two or three continuances, there’s a potential likelihood with that many days missed from work that you’re going to get fired,” he shared.
“That is a game that’s played sometimes in the justice system. I try to avoid that because I don’t believe that you should force victims to give up on cases because you string out the cases into infinity,” said Richards, the first African-American judge to win a countywide election in Broward County.
Richards explained that defendants also suffer because multiple continuances force them to remain in custody for extended periods of time, compelling them to take unfavorable pleas to avoid the potential loss of employment and subsequently, their house and car.
“I don’t favor either the state or the defense. I favor the constitution in making sure that just because you happen to be a victim with not that much money or a defendant with not that much money that folk can’t use the system to force you to disappear or force you to take a plea,” he said.
He also orders defendants and victims to undergo mental health counseling and drug rehabilitation when warranted.
“We can try and make sure that when families come into the domestic violence system, they leave safer than when they first came into the justice system by looking at the root cause of the problem and trying to solve that root problem,” Richards said.
The case that involved him jumping from the bench and tackling a man who attacked his former girlfriend in court occurred just three months after Richards took the bench in 2008. Richards said he instinctively responded.
“The only thing that went through my mind was ‘I can’t believe that this guy is attacking this woman in front of me,’” he said.
Richards said that he has given up trying to determine why, with a record as effective as his, he is being challenged for the seat. Richards was in the top five percent of judges for the number of jury trials presided over from 2009 to 2012; and he boasts a less than 0.1 percent reversal rate for cases that are heard for appeal.
In the Nov. 4th election, Richards will face Claudia Robinson, a former police union attorney who specializes in government law. In the three person primary election in August, Richards received 43.52 of the vote and Robinson received 32.61 percent.
Robinson replied to emailed interview requests and agreed to be interviewed, however, did not respond before this story went to press.
According to her website, Robinson came to the United States from Nicaragua at 2 with her mother and lived in Liberty City.
She has practiced law for eight years, beginning as an assistant public defender in Broward.
“Since most of my clients were in custody, I had to remain understanding to their feeling of wanting to be free while I adequately prepared their case for trial or otherwise. This balance of understanding and trial preparation required significant patience and assertiveness on my part—qualities that I believe are crucial as a judge,” Robinson told the Daily Business Review.
Michelle Hollinger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.