Tuesday, Aug. 24, is a date of great importance to Broward County’s African- American community. It is a day when we have the opportunity and obligation to preserve and enhance the presence of African-American judges on our County and Circuit courts.
With the exception of our historic vote in 2008 to elect President Barack Obama, there has not been a more important vote for us to cast that will impact the quality of our lives in Broward County and the integrity of our rights as citizens of the state of Florida.
Many of our people are clueless of why their vote on the judiciary is so important and others simply believe that, because they do not have any matters in court, such vote does not impact their lives. Both positions are wrong and dangerous.
Our quality of life depends on a fair and impartial judiciary that is independent and immune from political pressure, legislative pressure and special-interest pressure. We need a judiciary that is sensitive to all citizens.
For our community, it’s of even greater importance. If you ever visit the Broward County Courthouse, you will quickly notice that the percentage of African Americans who are involved in the judicial system is far greater than our percentage in the general population.
While you may not have a case in the system currently, the day can come when you will be in the courthouse and in need of a fair and impartial judge. Even if it’s not you, we all have family members, neighbors or friends whose path in life may take them into the civil or criminal system and we would desire that they receive justice.
While there are many non-African-American judges who provide us with excellent representation, that is no substitute for the importance of a diverse judiciary that reflects the demographics of our community.
You cannot be assured that the judge who will handle your matter will be an African American but there is a feeling of comfort when you step into the judicial system and you see some of the judges are from your community and look like you. The mere presence of African-American judges on the bench helps sensitize others to our community’s concerns.
It was in 1971 that Broward County got its first black judge with the appointment of Thomas J. Reddick Jr. to the Broward County Court of Record. The following year, Judge Reddick became the first African-American Broward County Circuit judge. But in nearly 40 years, we have only had about a dozen African-American judges and, out of 90 judges serving currently, we have only five.
The critical fact is that on Tuesday, three of our five African-American judges are up for re-election and each of them has been targeted for defeat. If we do not get out and vote, when we awaken on Wednesday, we could experience the nightmare of having lost three of our five sitting judges. That would take the African-American community back to a time when there was no voice for African Americans in the halls of the judiciary. We cannot allow that to happen.
Every voting citizen must cast a vote on Tuesday. We must preserve and advance the presence of diversity on the bench. The African- American judges up for re-election are Judge Kenneth L. Gillespie, Judge Mary Rudd Robinson and Judge Elijah H. Williams.
We also have two new candidates running for judgeships from our community: Roshawan Banks and F. J. McLawrence.
Exercise your power to vote on Tuesday and recognize that maintaining a voice in the halls of the judiciary is critical to preserving our quality life in this community.
Eugene K. Pettis is a Fort Lauderdale-based attorney with more than 25 years of litigation handling complex legal matters in the areas of personal injury, wrongful death and commercial litigation. He has been recognized for several years as one of Florida’s top attorneys and is a 2007 inductee to the exclusive American College of Trial Lawyers.