- Faith & Family
Several hundred community leaders are hoping to secure a city position in the August 14th primaries, but very few of those hopefuls are Black — particularly those running for county court judge. And while county court judges play a significant role in helping govern a community, it is a role that more often than not goes unnoticed especially in the Black community, says Kymberlee C. Smith, president of Gwen S. Cherry Black Women Lawyers Association [GSCBWLA].
“I think most people in the community don’t recognize and just don’t understand how the judiciary election affects them so it’s not something they pay attention to; it’s also something that is not as publicized as other races so they are not educated about it,” she said.
There are currently three local Black lawyers — all women — running for county court judge this year: Greer Elaine Wallace; Tanya Brinkley, and Teretha Lundy-Thomas — one of the first Black female city attorney’s in the state of Florida. Lundy-Thomas, running for re-election in group 33, serves as the first Black female administrative judge in the 11th circuit. Handling administrative matters for 20 county court judges in six Miami-Dade County courthouses, Lundy-Thomas was re-elected without opposition in 1996, 2000 and 2006.
Smith, who runs her own law firm — Kymberlee Curry Smith P.A., added that having minority judges in the court room can be beneficial for certain communities.
“You need Black judges because you want a judiciary that reflects the community it serves,” she said. Judges do have to follow specific guidelines, but they do have discretion so you want a judge that can use their experience to help them in their discretion on how to implement the law.” Former president of the GSCBWLA, Shirlyon McWhorter, ran for re-election for county court judge in 2006. Some deemed the election as controversial when McWhorter’s opponent, Patricia Marino-Pedraza added her Hispanic surname during the election season and defeated McWhorter by more than 10,000 votes.
“That is a sore spot in our community but the bottom line is our community needs to become more educated about who is running,” Smith said. “We need to become aware of who those African-American women are running for judge.”
McWhorter, director of Office of Equal Opportunity Program and Diversity at Florida International University, declined to comment about the 2006 election, but concurred with Smith about having diversity on the bench.
“From the perspective of a former County Court Judge and the director of diversity at FIU, it is very important that we have a mixture of people at the table in Miami-Dade County because we live inside a global community — so it’s important that we get that representation from these judges,” she said. “Many Black [residents] are unrepresented. It is crucial that the judge is fair and firm, but also has his or her pulse on the community.”
There are 122 judges presiding in Miami-Dade County — 10 are Black including: Lundy-Thomas; Jerald Bagley; Daryl Trawick; Orlando Prescott; William Thomas; Darrin Gayles; Wendell Graham; Eric Hendon; Rodney Smith; and Fred Seraphin.
By Latoya Burgess