2016 General Election, Circuit Court Judges: Group 34

Circuit courts are the highest-level trial courts in the state. They handle major criminal, civil (more than $15,000 in question), juvenile, and probate cases.

These names might look familiar. This is a runoff race between the top two candidates from the Aug. 30 election. Because these are nonpartisan races, we don’t list the candidates’ parties.

They also do not campaign on platforms because their job is to essentially apply the law as it’s written, in theory without any sway from their personal opinions. In judicial court races, Judicial Canon 7 places restrictions on what individuals can and cannot do as a judicial candidate. For certain questions, candidates may have indicated where they believe they are prohibited from answering. This is the Florida Supreme Court decision that explains further and limits what judicial candidates can and can not do.

Mark Blumstein

In response to our questionnaire, Mr. Blumstein provided his voluntary disclosure statement made to The Florida Bar to inform the public about his candidacy.  and his biography on his campaign website. Relevant information to our questions were pulled from those sources.

Occupation: Navy Judge Advocate and Attorney

(J.D., Magna Cum Laude ) Nova Southeastern University
(B.S. Business Administration)  University of Florida
Miami Beach Senior High School

Relevant experience:

Commencing in 1996, Mark served as a prosecutor and defense attorney with the United States Navy, Judge Advocate General’s Corps. Mark handled felony and misdemeanor crimes in the U.S. Navy before both bench and jury trials.

Following active service in the U.S. Navy, Mark returned home and commenced private practice for a local law firm where he practiced, among other things, admiralty law, while maintaining his affiliation and service in the U.S. Navy Reserve. He then joined another local law firm where he became a Shareholder and Partner and litigated contract, tort and commercial matters. Mark has tried cases and appeared in state and federal courts throughout Florida and beyond. In 2008, Mark opened his own law firm in Miami-Dade County representing individuals and corporations, including a class-action lawsuit brought on behalf of victims of defective Chinese drywall.

Mark is proud to have represented clients on both sides of the aisle, for the prosecution and defense, for the plaintiff and the defendant and as a litigant himself. This experience and perspective will serve him and those who come before him well as our elected Judge.

Mark has also served our community as an elected official and Commissioner for the Town of Surfside, FL, where he resides with his family. Mark continues to serve the people of Miami-Dade County, including on its Military Affairs Board, which has initiated the pursuit of a Veterans Court. (From website biography)

Why are you running?

I believe I would be a good judge for reasons including my legal acumen, trial experience and legal practice in areas of law including criminal law, commercial and civil law, torts, class action matters, admiralty law, family law, international law and military law. My selfless service to our community and nation, dedication to public service, understanding of the local community, leadership experience and ability, as well as temperament will also serve me well as a judge. (From Florida Bar voluntary disclosure)

Remaining questions unanswered. 

Luis Perez-Medina

Occupation: Assistant state attorney

(J.D.) Florida International University
(B.S., Political Science) Florida International University

Why are the best qualified?

There are two types of knowledge a judge needs to be effective. One is the legal experience and one is the life experience.

When it comes to my legal experience I’ve been a prosecutor for 10 years and an assistant state attorney. I’m in court every single day and that’s where the judges are. I’m not sitting in offices, writing a contract. I’m in court and I’m doing trial. I have the most jury trials. That’s what’s important. As a prosecutor we don’t do bench trials, we do jury trials. I have experience trying homicides. My legal experience comes from being a prosecutor, investigating cases. I get to investigate politicians, police officers, who go work for the government and steal taxpayer money. Those are very complex cases that I have to investigate and determine whether we file charges or we don’t. That’s currently what I’m doing.

Through the state attorney’s office, I started as a line prosecutor. What you do there is you start with the misdemeanor cases. You’re there for about six months or so, trying DUI cases, possession of marijuana cases, petty theft cases. Then you move to juvenile court, which is not just limited to misdemeanors, it’s also felony cases. I was there for another six months or so. Eventually you move to felony division. Once you’re there, you start as a C attorney. As a C attorney you start out with burglaries, possession and sale of marijuana cases, then eventually you get moved to a B attorney. Now you’re dealing with robberies, trafficking, and drugs and eventually you move to become an A attorney that deals with more serious cases, gun violence cases, manslaughter, vehicular homicide. The next step is to be a division chief. You become a supervisor. You learn how to work with other attorneys, how to work with defense. I was working with Judge Cueto. As a supervisor in front of Judge Cueto for the state, I’m supervising now A, B, and C attorneys. I make sure their pleas are correct. I did that for three years and those cases get rotated because they get promoted. I trained around nine felony attorneys. Most of them became division chiefs of their own. I was a division chief for around three years and I worked with judge Handlin and Judge Siegler. I was promoted to the public corruption unit, I’ve been doing that for three years in the state attorney’s office. You investigate corrupt politicians, people that work in the county or in the cities not doing what they’re supposed to do.

I have the most trial experience in my race.

That’s where you get your legal experience. It doesn’t matter how long you do it. You get it concentrated, you’re there all the time. You basically get a concentrated legal experience. It’s not like you’re going to court once a month or once a year, you’re going to court every day.

What should the people of Miami-Dade know about you?

You’ve got to learn how to treat people. That doesn’t come from law school, that comes from life experience. I came from humble beginnings. My parents were exiles from Cuba, and I came with them in 1968 when they were exiled from Cuba to the US. My mom and my dad knew we were leaving Cuba and they wanted me to learn, so they took me to places in Cuba to learn what it was like to live in a dictatorship.

That’s one of the reasons I love history, I love politics. It’s just something that I’ve always wanted to follow because of my upbringing. I love to study the history of this country. When I got here I went to public school. I was 18 yrs old. I started working with my parents doing homeowners insurance. I then went to Prudential selling insurance and worked my way through college. [Me and my wife] both finished our degree around age 40. At that point I did something I wanted to do. It was a dream of mine to become an attorney. In 2000 FIU was opening up their law school, so I applied for the night program and I got accepted. I went to work during the day, went to school at night three hours a day, four days a week. I graduated No. 1 in my class and went to work for the state attorney’s office. Coming from humble beginnings, I learned how to treat people with respect, working with public 20 yrs selling insurance, you learn how to treat people… that’s something you don’t get in law school. Interacting with other people, i think that’s an important question when someone wants to become a judge. It’s not just [experience], which I believe I have, but also how you apply that.

This is probably the only country where at age 40 I can change my career, go to law school, become a prosecutor, do serious cases and 10 or 11 yrs later, run for judge. This is one of the few countries you can do that. I’m very grateful to my parents, my family and this country for helping me to do this.

Is addiction a disease?

If you’re looking at drug addiction, alcoholism, at some point there’s a choice that the person is making. If I become a judge, I’m going to follow whatever the law is. At one point it’s a choice, but at some point it does become a disease. There’s always a starting point. The starting point you can’t say that’s a disease. Like smoking, someone has to smoke the first cigarette and that’s a choice. I used to be a smoker for 10 yrs. I quit 29 years ago. I quit cold turkey. I was smoking two packs a day. But just because I did it, doesn’t mean anyone else can do it. It was hard to do, but it’s doable. Smoking is not the same as drugs and it’s definitely not the same as alcohol. To a certain point I think it’s a disease, but there’s a starting pot at the beginning where it is a choice.

If it’s on civil side, you’re not entitled [to representation]. But on criminal cases, that’s the law at this point. If you’re homeless or you don’t have any money, you don’t have options. In criminal cases it’s the law. You have to have an attorney and you have to be represented. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the right thing to do.

If you’re facing jail or prison you don’t have the knowledge to go out and defend yourself. You need an attorney. There are complex factual issues that can come up on trial. In other situations that have nothing to do with criminal, it’s something different.

Should a civil citation be the presumed penalty for a first offense of cannabis possession?

I think it’s discretionary as it relates to the prosecutor. As a prosecutor, I don’t disagree with that. As a judge I’m going to enforce whatever the law is. Not enforce, that’s the wrong term. I’m not enforcing, I’m going to apply the law however the law is. I think Dade County is a civil fine for first offense.

Should judges have a say as to whether a juvenile is direct filed into the adult system?

I don’t think that’s something a judge should decide. Filing decisions are always by a state attorney’s office. A judge is not investigating a case. A judge is really not a fact finder. The goal is just to interpret the law. It’s not up to a judge to take facts of a case and then decide… that’s up to the state attorney. Certain laws that allow a judge sentencing… in that situation you’ve got to look at the cases on an individual basis. I don’t think a judge should be able to decide juvenile or adult section. It has to be the state attorney’s call, simply because the judge is not a fact finder.

If the judge is going to make the determination, we have a prosecutor and a defense, they can negotiate it and decide how to handle the case.

When someone arrests a juvenile, filing decisions are always by the state attorney’s office and then it’s up to the defense and the judge to decide whether that’s a valid disagreement or not. The judge would be getting involved in something. That’s their call, they have the power to do that.

What makes Miami so darn cool?

It’s a great place to live. You have diverse weather, the people are so nice. I’ve lived all over the county, from Homestead to Miami Gardens and everyone is so nice and so friendly. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. I think you can’t beat the weather, although you have a little tropical storm here or there. But mainly it’s the diversity and people who are here.

What’s your perfect Saturday in Miami?

Going with my two daughters and doing something with them, movies or going to the park — and with my wife, of course.

It’s going out and spending time with the family. That’s something I haven’t been able to do that much. I miss it while campaigning. When I’m done campaigning, I want to be able to spend time with them again.