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Does the JAABlog play a role?

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Does the JAABlog play a role?

Talk with those in the legal community about the 17th Circuit judiciary and legal matters, and sooner or later the subject of the JAABlog comes up.

Some see the online publication as a major force in fomenting discontent with the Broward County judiciary that led to 15 incumbent county and circuit judges being challenged for reelection this year, along with races in five open seats. Others say the blog doesn’t play a major role.

Broward County Bar Association President Carlos Llorente said the blog, read mostly by courthouse locals and those who spend a lot of time at the courthouse, “puts out a ‘Let’s get rid of the incumbents’ sentiment.

“Couple that with a traditional Broward County antipathy for judges” and you get this year’s unprecedented number of judicial elections, he said.

On the other hand, Alan Schneider, who is challenging Circuit Judge Elijah Williams, said he didn’t know of the blog, which has been running for about four years, until the day after he filed.

Attorney Bill Gelin co-founded the JAABlog (Justice Advocacy Association of Broward) with a group of other attorneys in August 2006. “The group itself petered out, but the blog lived,” he said.

The genesis was a perception that the justice system was unfair to criminal defendants, particularly if they were poor and minorities, he said, saying that minorities convicted of nonviolent crimes were sent to prison at twice the rate of surrounding counties.

There was also a perception that the court system was overly political, especially after the Legislature changed the judicial nominating commission system during the Gov. Jeb Bush administration so the governor appointed all the JNC members, Gelin said.

“Most judges are good, but there’s been a lot of media exposure,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of bad actors who made a mockery of our justice system.”

The blog is unmonitored, Gelin said, and anyone can post an opinion or comment, with or without their name. He said he is the “principal author” of the site, but does not moderate the comments.

“A lot of it is vile, disgusting crap, a lot of the time which is written about me,” Gelin said. “This is a place for having people put information out there and not be crushed or have their careers destroyed.”

Opinions about the blog run the gamut. Some see it as important, some as spurious, and others pay little attention.

“It’s rattled a lot of people,” said Jordan Breslaw, who is challenging County Judge Mary Rudd Robinson, a 21-year veteran of the bench. “It’s very important for lawyers to have a platform where they can express themselves without fear of retaliation.”

Llorente used one of his presidential columns in the Broward Bar’s newsletter to lament the “us vs. them” mentality created by the blog. In another he wrote: “This message is for all lawyers. If you are going to write comments or opinions for the rest of the world to see, write to make an impact, not a scene. And for God’s sake, write prose befitting the degrees bestowed upon you by colleges and university and the education you, or your parents, may have paid for.”

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