First black in 22 years elected to bench, two other winners named

Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Dina Keever and County Court Judge Marni Bryson were swept back into office on Tuesday while voters put an African-American on the county bench for the first time in more than two decades and set the stage for a run-off in two other judicial races.

With nearly all of the precincts reporting, it appeared Boca Raton securities lawyer Gregory Tendrich and West Palm Beach defense attorney Luis Delgado were headed for a runoff in November to decide who will replace retiring Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Martin Colin.

Likewise, in a county court race, it appeared longtime West Palm Beach defense attorney Gregg Lerman will be facing off in November against guardianship attorney Dana Santino to succeed County Court Judge Laura Johnson, who was elected to the circuit bench without opposition.

Civil litigator Bradley Harper appeared headed for victory in the other county court race, boasting a narrow margin over Assistant State Attorney Esther “Ettie” Feistmann to replace retired County Court Judge Barry Cohen.

Throughout the campaign, the 38-year-old sixth generation Palm Beach County resident has emphasized the potential he had of being the first black in 22 years to be elected to the county bench, although other black jurists have been appointed.

“I think it’s an important step in our community,” Harper said as his victory appeared nearly certain. “We came together from all different parts of the community to make sure we have a fair judiciary and that it looks like our community.”

Delgado, 35, a Marine veteran who served in Iraq, repeatedly said he was trying to achieve a similar milestone by becoming the first Hispanic judge elected in county history. With some precincts yet to be counted, he declined to declare that he had survived to fight Tendrich in a November face off.

But, he expressed cautious optimism that Tendrich would be unable to muster more than 50 percent of the vote needed to avoid a runoff. Fort Lauderdale condo attorney Jeremy Zubkoff was a distant third.

“In a head to head contest anything is possible,” Delgado said of his looming race against Tendrich, 53, the son of a longtime Miami-Dade County circuit court judge.

While disappointed he didn’t win outright, Tendrich pointed out that he came close and far outstripped Delgado’s vote totals. “We feel good going into November,” he said.

Lerman, 56, said he was not surprised that his race against Santino and former county Magistrate Thomas Baker is headed into extra innings. He said he expected he and Baker would split the vote in the legal community, which would set the stage for Santino to come in second. That prediction was dead on.

He indicated the gloves may come off in the upcoming months. “It’s not going to be as friendly a race as it has been,” he said.

Both Lerman and Baker filed a complaint against Santino with the Judicial Campaign Practices Commission of the Palm Beach County Bar Association, complaining she repeatedly said she worked at the public defender’s and state attorney’s office when she worked as a legal intern for both while in law school. The commission ruled that she had corrected the mistake and hadn’t intentionally inflated her credentials.

The judicial ethics advisory commission was unusually busy this year as candidates in several races used it to attack their opponents. It fielded a whopping 11 complaints alleging violations of the judicial code of conduct — more than it has received in the last eight election cycles combined.

Keever, who lost a 2012 bid for state attorney to Dave Aronberg, was repeatedly blasted by her opponent, Wellington attorney Robert “Rob” Ostrov, for how she won her judicial seat: She was appointed to the bench last year by Gov. Rick Scott. In the end, the attack apparently fell flat as she defeated the former state House candidate by a wide margin.

The most contentious race was between Bryson and North Palm Beach attorney Lisa Grossman, who was making her first bid for public office. Bryson, a former assistant public defender who also worked as an assistant attorney general, won a combative race in 2010. She did so again easily on Tuesday.

Bryson said she was humbled by the support she received. “I am so grateful to this county and I look forward to getting back to my job,” she said.

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