The testy side of the judicial campaign season officially kicked off this week when an advisory panel settled the first of what is likely to be many disputes between the 17 candidates vying in the Aug. 28 election for five open seats on Palm Beach County’s bench.
In its inaugural opinion this year, the Judicial Campaign Practices Commission on Wednesday slapped county judge candidate Gabriel Ermine for not immediately renouncing an endorsement from U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Delray Beach. Because the veteran congressman is also running for re-election, Ermine is barred by judicial canons from accepting his endorsement, the advisory panel of the Palm Beach County Bar Association unanimously agreed.
The panel’s decision comes at a time when judicial campaign tactics are under heightened attention. Just over a week ago, Palm Beach County Judge Dana Santino became the first jurist in county history to be booted from the bench when the Florida Supreme Court removed her from office for attacks she made against her opponent during her 2016 election.
Ermine said he had no idea Dan Liftman, a long time aide to Hastings, was going to announce the endorsement at a June campaign event in Boynton Beach. While he said he privately chided Liftman after the event, the panel said he should have publicly renounced it immediately.
The complaint against Ermine, a Broward County assistant public defender who lives in Delray Beach, was filed by West Palm Beach attorney Allegra Fung. She and Ermine are vying against three other attorneys — Allen Ambrosino, Lloyd Comiter and Ashley Zuckerman — to replace retiring County Judge Peter Evans.
A video of Liftman’s endorsement was posted on You Tube by Peter Fung and shared with the advisory panel.
Until the 2016 election cycle, few complaints were filed with the commission.
Two years ago, the panel fielded roughly a dozen complaints from candidates against their opponents — more than had been filed in the previous eight election cycles combined. Some of the complaints included allegations of multiple violations of the canons which dictate what candidates can and can’t do on the campaign trail.
The panel famously advised then-candidate Santino that she violated judicial canons by blasting her opponent, defense attorney Gregg Lerman, for representing, “murderers, rapists, child molesters and other criminals.” Santino, who ultimately won the election, dismissed the advice as just an “opinion.” The advisory committee’s opinion and her reaction to it contributed to Santino’s removal from the bench by the Florida Supreme Court.